ACLU Sues For Records About FBI Collection Of Racial And Ethnic Data In Michigan

July 21, 2011

FBI's Claimed Authority To Track And Map Racial And Ethnic "Behaviors" And "Lifestyle Characteristics" Of American Communities Invites Racial Profiling

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan today sued the FBI and Department of Justice for records related to the FBI's use of race and ethnicity in conducting assessments and investigations of local communities in Michigan. According to an FBI operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about, and create maps of, so-called racial and ethnic behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions and "ethnic-oriented" businesses in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

“Through this lawsuit we hope to get records that will tell us exactly what federal law enforcement officials are doing and whether Americans are protected,” said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney. “Law enforcement profiling based on race and ethnicity has the potential to erode community trust while doing nothing to solve or deter crime. It’s important that Michigan residents know what federal law enforcement officials are doing so that as a community we can hold them accountable for any abuses of power.”

The FBI's power to collect, use and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI's "domain awareness" and "intelligence analysis" activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the DIOG in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January 2010. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than two years, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.

Last summer, ACLU affiliate offices across the nation filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to uncover records about the FBI's collection and use of racial and ethnicity data from their local FBI field offices. Today’s lawsuit challenges the FBI’s withholding of documents in Michigan. In the past year, several other ACLU affiliates have filed similar lawsuits.

“While the collection of some racial and ethnic data about communities might assist in addressing discrimination, the FBI's claimed authority to target and map certain racial and ethnic communities for increased scrutiny and investigation invites unconstitutional racial profiling,” said Nusrat Choudhury, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "In America, we don’t target neighborhoods for law enforcement purposes based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there or the types of businesses they run."

The attorneys on the case, ACLU of Michigan v. FBI, are Mark Fancher, Kary L. Moss and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan; ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorney Stephen Borgsdorf of Dykema Gossett PLLC; and Hina Shamsi and Nusrat Choudhury of the ACLU National Security Project.

To read the complaint, go to: www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/ACLUvsFBI.pdf

To read about the FOIA request, go to: www.aclumich.org/issues/racial-justice/2010-07/1458

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