NEWARK (CN) – The ACLU says the FBI and Justice Department blew off its requests for documents that will shed light on the FBI’s “authority to collect, use and map racial and ethnic data in New Jersey.” The ACLU says the FBI could use its secretive authority to spy on more than one-third of the population of New Jersey.
“(M)ore than one in three New Jersey residents could be considered ‘ethnic,’ and their ‘behaviors,’ ‘cultural traditions,’ and ‘life style characteristics’ potentially could be mapped or otherwise analyzed by the FBI,” the ACLU of New Jersey says in its federal FOIA complaint.
The FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Operations Guide, an internal guide on how to carry out the Justice Department’s Attorney General Guidelines, “is the subject of widespread public attention, concern and debate,” but its details have been “shrouded in secrecy,” the ACLU says.
The Department of Justice released a rehashed Attorney General Guidelines in December 2008. The guidelines “govern the FBI’s conduct on criminal, national security, and counter-intelligence assessments and investigations,” according to the complaint. Also that month, the FBI released its Domestic Intelligence Operations Guide, implementing the Justice Department guidelines.
The guide “contains troubling revelations about the FBI’s authorized use of race and ethnicity information in conducting assessments and investigations,” the ACLU says.
“The FBI is permitted to ‘identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities in the Field Office’s domain’; to collect and analyze racial and ethnic community demographics, including data about ‘ethnic-oriented businesses and other facilities’; to collect and analyze racial and ethnic ‘behavior[s],’ ‘cultural tradition[s],’ and ‘life style characteristics’ in local communities; and to map racial and ethnic demographics, ‘behavior[s],’ ‘cultural tradition[s],’ and ‘life style characteristics’ in local communities.” (Brackets in complaint.)
The guide also “details the FBI’s power to collect, use and map racial and ethnic in order to assist the agency’s ‘domain awareness’ and ‘intelligence analysis.”
The ACLU says the “FBI’s potential ‘mapping’ of local communities and local businesses based on race and ethnicity, and its ability to target ‘ethnic communities’ for special collection and mapping of information based on so-called racial and ethnic ‘behaviors’ or ‘characteristics’ raise grave civil rights and civil liberties concerns because they could be based on, or lead to, illegal and unconstitutional racial profiling.
“According to census data, more than one in three New Jersey residents could be considered ‘ethnic,’ and their ‘behaviors,’ ‘cultural traditions,’ and ‘life style characteristics’ potentially could be mapped or otherwise analyzed by the FBI.”
The ACLU submitted six FOIA requests in July 2010, to six FBI branches in New Jersey, seeking records on how the FBI has been using the Domestic Intelligence Operations Guide to “conduct assessments and investigations in local communities in New Jersey” and “how the FBI is authorized to use the racial and ethnic data it collects.”
Three months later, the FBI said it was “searching for documents” and when the documents were found they would have to be sent to an analyst. The FBI by then was way past its 20-day statutory deadline for response.
After another month went by, the ACLU got a “first interim release” of 298 pages, but the FBI acknowledged that “certain information was withheld from the documents.”
The “FBI has not produced any additional documents or informed plaintiff of an anticipated date for the completion of the processing of the request,” the ACLU says.
The ACLU wants to see all the records it requested.
It is represented by Jeanne LoCicero of Newark.