AP reveals secret NY Police surveillance of Moslems, Moroccans, no warrants in sight

Observation, undercoverwork documented "Moroccan barbership," restaurants, "flophouses"

One day soon the New York Police Department is going to have to change the image on its badges to be a little more honest than the classical and democratic-looking image of the city's official seal that they bear now.

Maybe they could move the white colonist "Dexter" (no kidding) around to the same side as the Indian Lenape, maybe hidden behind the eagle so he can keep an eye on the Indian (who is armed; he has a bow), or just arrest him for having the potential to be a suspicious character.

Or maybe the NYPD could replace the windmill-arms in the middle of the seal with a camera lens, or giant eye, just to make clear to the people of New York that the police department is always watching them, whether it's legal to do so or not.

The Associated Press is reporting that the NYPD, since at least 2003 have run a regular, persistent surveillance program over anyone they found suspicious, nearly all of whom turned out to be Moslem groups, Middle-Easterners or people suspected of being swarthy.

Under a plan called the Moroccan Initiative, the NYPD send undercover cops to take pictures of restaurants where Moroccans ate, watched and documented where Moroccans bought groceries, which hotels they used, where they prayed and whether a site it was watching served "religious Muslims" or just the regular kind.

Documents obtained by the AP show a pattern of suspicion and surveillance of Moslems, especially Moroccans, during which the NYPD documented the routine process of any immigrant to find an apartment, friends, place to pray and live.

One U.S. citizen it was watching, a Police file noted, worked in "a known Moroccan barbershop."

That's just rampant bigotry against barbershops that have not yet had the courage or opportunity to come out of the closet as Moroccan.

The pattern of surveillance and investigation also violates a plurality of the Bill of Rights, common sense and the requirement that they uphold the Constitution, by assuming that, in a nation of foreigners and immigrants, foreigners and immigrants are inherently suspicious.

The department defends itself by saying it was only trying to trace where tourists or terrorists (same difference) would go and what they would do when they first came to New York – what border crossings they'd use, what "flophouses" they would stay in, what Internet cafes they'd use and other bits of trivia, according to NYPD Spokesman Paul Browne.

The program began in 2003, after a suicide bombing in Morocco, but records don't show clearly why or whether the surveillance is still going on.

New York laws forbid using race, religion or ethnicity as "the determinative factor" for any decision by police.

"A lot of these locations were innocent," the AP quoted an anonymous official as saying. "They just happened to be in the community."

From an IT perspective, the only saving grace is that most of the surveillance was done in meatspace, not cyberspace. Digital eavesdropping is more the style of the FBI and NSA. It's a little fey for the NYPD.

The principal is still the same: surveillance is legal only in specific circumstances when law enforcers have a solid reason to believe a limited number of people are up to a specific type of no good and can show a judge enough of that evidence to justify getting special permission to listen in on their phone calls or intercept their emails.

It's tempting to go keep an eye on people you think are suspicious, especially when there's good reason to think that a small number of whackos from the same hemisphere of the world might want to do something drastic to your city, like fly a jet into a big building full of people or something.

That's a good reason to be suspicious, to be on guard and to be as vigorous as possible in checking out the real threats, the people who are actually dangerous and the communities who might really be hiding them.

It's not a good enough excuse to investigate anyone with a deeper tan or stronger accent than you, especially if they've shown no sign of being like other swarthy, foreign-sounding, odd-food-eating, Moroccan-barbershop-grooming people who thing striking out violently is a good way to make their point – like the shooters at Columbine, the UnaBomber or the terrorists who blew up a federal building in Omaha.

I have it on good authority they all came from communities of radical, pushy immigrants who should have gone back where they came from – a couple of generations sooner than the suspicious Moroccans.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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