Yesterday, in a case called Hassan v. The City of New York, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit accusing New York City of violating the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of Muslim-Americans in New Jersey under a sprawling and ineffective NYPD surveillance dragnet.
In layman’s terms: the district court, without a trial or the presentation of evidence, ruled that the plaintiffs weren’t harmed unjustifiably, that they hadn’t alleged sufficient wrongdoing by the police, and that they had no right to sue. The Third Circuit ruling rejects those determinations and the case will now move forward at the district court.
An Associated Press investigation uncovered the NYPD program in 2011 and detailed the immense breadth of the NYPD’s surveillance efforts against the Muslim community in several states. Police officers and informants infiltrated dozens of mosques. Police installed surveillance cameras so that Muslim-owned businesses, places of worship, and residences in New Jersey could be surveilled remotely. The NYPD even sent undercover officers to infiltrate Muslim student organizations at out-of-state universities such as Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, including one field trip to go whitewater rafting. Those agents recorded the names of the students, how often they prayed, and what they talked about. The NYPD is alleged to have “generated reports on every mosque within 100 miles of New York City.”
Despite the cost and the seemingly boundless geographic and jurisdictional scope of the spying program, there is little evidence of success. In fact, the now-defunct “Demographics Unit,” a central component of the program, generated no convictions or, according to one agent deposition, even any tangible leads in more than a decade of operation.