Muslim-Surveillance Case Draws Out De Blasio

     NEWARK (CN) – Taking its first public stance on the case under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City has defended a program that spied on various Muslim organizations during the Bloomberg administration.
     The Monday brief urges the 3rd Circuit to affirm dismissal of a 2012 federal complaint that accused the New York City Police Department of violating the U.S. Constitution with various spying activities.
     Syed Hassan is the lead plaintiff in the action alleging that animus toward Muslims motivated a “secret spying program,” which violated the First and 14th Amendments.
     The case was filed not long after the Associated Press published a series of articles in 2011 that documented how in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a division of the NYPD known as the “Demographics Unit,” spied on various Muslim organizations. Some of the spying occurred outside of the NYPD’s jurisdiction and without the knowledge of local elected officials.
     While the plaintiffs in Hassan filed in New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar challenge in New York. That case is currently stayed pending settlement discussions.
     U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed the New Jersey case this past February, finding that “none of the plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents.”
     The ruling also noted that the AP’s exposure of the secret program led to an investigation by the attorney general of New Jersey, which “concluded that that NYPD had not violated any New Jersey civil or criminal laws.”
     Hassan et al.’s appeal of that ruling forced the city, for the first time under first-year Mayor de Blasio, to respond to the appeal of the lawsuit.
     The 79-page brief echoes many of the same themes found in many Bloomberg-era briefs on the case.
     It emphasizes, for example, the absence of any allegation “that defendant’s ‘surveillance’ activities in public spaces unlawfully invaded their privacy under the Fourth Amendment or any other law, and they do not allege that defendants ever stopped, arrested, detained, or prosecuted them.”
     “Indeed, after a three-month investigation, the New Jersey Attorney General concluded that defendants’ activities violated no criminal or civil law,” the brief states.
     The city slams the plaintiffs for failing to allege “concrete and imminent injuries necessary to establish standing.”
     “Plaintiffs cannot transform their own subjective fears into cognizable injuries simply by alleging that those fears led them to change their behaviors,” the brief states.
     Indeed no plaintiff has alleged a “loss of employment and only one vaguely claims a pecuniary loss,” the city added.
     “All of the harms alleged by plaintiffs occurred, if they occurred, only after the Associated Press made public certain confidential NYPD documents and did so in unredacted form,” the brief states. “Nowhere in the amended complaint do plaintiffs allege that the NYPD ever publicly released any information collected from the alleged surveillance program or that plaintiffs ever suffered any harm prior to the unauthorized public release of the documents by the AP.”
     In an early 2102 motion on Hassan, Bloomberg’s city attorneys wrote that “all of plaintiffs’ alleged injuries arose only after the Associated Press released confidential NYPD documents and it is that disclosure that has resulted in plaintiffs’ alleged stigmatization.”
     The NYPD announced this past April that it had abandoned the beleaguered Demographics Unit, a move that Mayor de Blasio called “a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”
     A spokesman for the city Law Department told The New York Times that the arguments and content of the city’s newest brief “does not address broader policy issues concerning surveillance of Muslim communities, but rather technical legal issues.”
     That hasn’t stopped the disappointment within some of the Muslim community about the content of the recent filing. Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates, commented to various publications that the city’s brief “continues to argue that the NYPD should be allowed to spy on people because of their faith.”

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