Because of widespread civil rights abuses during the 1950s and 1960s, the NYPD has been limited by a court order in what intelligence it can gather on innocent people. Lawyers in that case have questioned whether the post-9/11 spying violates that order. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is a separate legal challenge.
The NYPD and New York officials have said the surveillance programs violated no one's constitutional rights, and the NYPD is allowed to travel anywhere to collect information. Officials have said NYPD lawyers closely review the intelligence division's programs.
"The constitutional violation that the NYPD did commit was blanket surveillance of a group based on religion," said Glenn Katon, Muslim Advocate's legal director. He said a program that treats people differently based on religion, national origin or race is subject to the Constitution. "That's the crux of our claim," he said.
A George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, said it would be a challenge to convince the government that the NYPD's practices were illegal because the courts and Congress have allowed more and more surveillance in the years since 9/11. But, he said, most of these questions have been handled in policy debates and not in the court systems.
Nineteen-year-old Moiz Mohammed, a sophomore at Rutgers University, said he was moved to join the lawsuit after reading reports that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at colleges across the Northeast, including his own. He said the revelations had made him nervous to pray in public or engage in lively debates with fellow students — a practice he said he once most enjoyed about the college atmosphere.
"It's such an unfair thing going on: Here I am, I am an American citizen, I was born here, I am law abiding, I volunteer in my community, I have dialogues and good relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the NYPD here is surveilling people like me?"
"We feel as though it was a violation of our constitutional and our civil and our human rights," said Abdul Kareem Muhammad, one of the plaintiff's in the case. Muhammad is the imam of the Newark mosque, Masjid al-Haqq. That mosque was listed and pictured in a September 2007 NYPD report on Newark.
"We have a very strong objection to that," Muhammad said. "We condemn and denounce every form of terrorism."
Muhammad said he and other Muslim community leaders have not been given assurances that the NYPD is no longer conducting surveillance on their communities.
"That's become very disturbing, too," Muhammad said. "There's a possibility that this is still going on."
Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman in Washington, Samantha Henry in Newark, and Tom Hays and researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this story.
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