The New York City Police Department illegally spied on Muslim political organizations, according to a government report released on Tuesday.
The 67-page report from the city's Office of the Inspector General says between 2010 and 2015 undercover NYPD officers spied on political organizations – mostly Muslim – long after their authorization to do so expired.
"Based on its review, OIG-NYPD determined that the individuals under investigation were predominantly associated with Muslims and/or engaged in political activity that those individuals associated with Islam – more than 95% of all files reviewed for this investigation," said the report entitled “An Investigation of NYPD’s Compliance with Rules Governing Investigations of Political Activity. "However, in the past, investigations have focused on others, including Black and Latino activists, student groups, socialists, and political protesters."
The Handschu agreement, the result of a class action lawsuit against the New York City police by political activists who claim they had been spied upon, govern operations like anti-terrorism investiagtions, but the report claims the guidelines weren’t followed.
The report noted that in the random sample they studied, despite heavy redaction in the information provided, police failed to renew authorization of an investigation more than 53 percent of the time. Confidential informants were not reauthorized in a timely manner in 57.3 percent of the time. The reason for extending investigations was omitted 100 percent of the time as was the reasoning for the continued use of a confidential informant.
"This investigation demonstrates a failure by [the] NYPD to follow rules governing the timing and authorizations of surveillance of political activity," DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said. "We will continue our oversight to ensure compliance going forward.”
The Department of Intelligence and the Office of the Inspector General gave the city 11 recommendations on how to better follow the Handschu Guidelines.
The NYPD called compliance with the court-ordered Handschu Guidelines “imperative” and said a new tracking system has been in place since July after noticing some issues in 2013.
“The NYPD has never suggested that protecting New York City from terrorism and adhering to the Handschu Guidelines were mutually exclusive outcomes,” said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. “Rather, it has always been our assertion that we will go where the evidence takes us, and we will do so within the guidelines of the law.”
Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John J. Miller echoed that statement, “The NYPD will continue the work that has already begun to improve what is already regarded as a high standard of compliance, while also protecting New York City from the threat of terrorism.”
The Department of Investigation said in the report that none of the investigations would have been compromised if the guidelines had been followed.
“The 1985 Handschu Decree was designed to protect those basic rights of free speech and assembly,” the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote in May 2003. “In order to preserve those important constitutional values we must have the courage to speak out in the face of fear and repression.”