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ACLU: FBI guilty of 'industrial scale' racial profiling

The ACLU says the FBI is guilty of racial profiling when investigating criminal threats. The FBI says it is taking into account the reality of the post-9/11 world.

By Staff writer / October 21, 2011

Muslims pray during a prayer service held at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., in April. The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the FBI of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling, including the Muslim population in Michigan.

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The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation of using racial, ethnic, and religious profiling in its attempts to fight crime and domestic terrorism within the US.

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In a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, the ACLU pointed to “growing evidence … that the FBI is illegally and unconstitutionally targeting innocent Americans for investigation based upon their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and political activities protected under the First Amendment.”

The FBI disputes the claims.

Over the years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, tensions between civil liberties organizations and domestic security agencies charged with preventing additional attacks have steadily increased. The same period has included a series of incidents in which alleged Muslim-American terrorists – particularly so-called “lone wolves” – have been thwarted in their attempts through the use of paid informants posing as fellow jihadis.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests – some backed up with lawsuits – to find out how the FBI is using racial and ethnic data as part of its investigations.

“The documents we have started to receive confirm our worst fears,” ACLU officials wrote to Attorney General Holder. “Although often heavily redacted, these documents, obtained from a number of different field offices, demonstrate that FBI analysts are using improper and crude racial stereotypes regarding the types of crimes committed by different racial and ethnic groups and then collecting demographic data to map where people of those racial or ethnic groups live.”

The result, charges the ACLU, has been “racial profiling on an industrial scale.”

For example, information obtained through one FOIA action shows that an FBI field office in Detroit sought authority in July 2009 to collect information and evaluate domestic terrorism threats “because Michigan has a large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population, [and] it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment” by State Department-designated terrorist groups originating in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

In response to the ACLU report, the FBI stated flatly that it “does not investigate individuals, groups, or communities based on ethnicity or race.”

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