San Francisco – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California will join thirty one other ACLU affiliates around the country today in asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to make public the details of a new FBI program created to collect and "map" information about racial and ethnic demographics, "behaviors," cultural traditions, and "life style characteristics" in local communities with concentrated ethnic populations.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are intended to uncover records about this activity from local FBI field offices. The Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian have joined the ACLU of Northern California in this request.
"The FBI's mapping of local communities and businesses based on race and ethnicity raises serious civil liberties concerns," said Michael German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. "Creating a law enforcement profile of a neighborhood based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there is unfair, un-American and will certainly not help stop crime."
According to census data, nearly half of all Bay Area residents could be considered "ethnic."
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 of this year, in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.
"Profiling and mapping based on race is discriminatory and divisive – it sends the message that the government wrongly sees these communities as suspicious and disloyal," said attorney Veena Dubal, who specializes in national security and civil rights issues at Asian Law Caucus. "It also diverts attention from actual threats, thereby wasting law enforcement resources. Profiling does not make us safer as a country or community."
The FOIA requests were filed by the ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arkansas, California (Northern, Southern and San Diego), Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.
A plan by the Los Angeles Police Department to "map" Muslim residents by race and religion was shut down after it created a significant uproar in 2007.
The ACLU believes that the fear of terrorism has led to a new era of overzealous police intelligence activity directed, as in the past, against political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrants. To document and discuss incidents of domestic spying from around the country, the ACLU has created an online resource called Spy Files at www.aclu.org/spy-files