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New Settlement Allows Civilian Review of NYPD Surveillance | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A New York Police van is pictured in front of the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan bureau of New York, September 22. Reuters

Washington – An agreement that settles lawsuits accusing the New York Police Department of violating basic rights in Muslim communities after Sept. 11, 2001, has been revised to build in more oversight that acts as a check against surveillance abuses.

New York City’s Police Department has agreed to a new settlement in a lawsuit accusing it of illegally targeting Muslims for surveillance, according to court papers filed on Monday, after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal.

The new settlement gives additional powers to a civilian representative charged with reviewing the department’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Legal Director for New York Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Arthur Eisenberg said in a statement that the settlement was “even more protective of religious and political freedoms” than the version announced in January 2016.

ACLU represents Muslim individuals and organizations that sued New York City in 2013 in Brooklyn Federal Court, claiming they were targeted by police surveillance.

The new deal gives the civilian representative the power to report on violations of the guidelines to the court at any time and requires the mayor to get court approval before removing the representative, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The earlier version allowed the mayor to eliminate the position after five years.

The civilian representative can now also review how investigations are conducted, not just how they are started or extended.

Following 9/11 attacks, the New York Police Department pursued an aggressive surveillance program that sent undercover officers into Muslim neighborhoods, organizations and mosques.

The tactics were criticized by civil rights advocates as unconstitutional.

In 2013, ACLU filed a pair of lawsuits against the NYPD for illegally spying on Muslims, solely based on their religion.

Starting in 2002, three religious and community leaders, two mosques, and one charitable organization claimed that the NYPD mapped Muslim communities, institutions, and businesses in New York City, and spied on Muslims without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

According to the original complaint, the information that was collected by police was put into databases, but it never generated a single lead or led to a single terrorism investigation.

Both cases were settled in January 2016 when the NYPD agreed to make major reforms to their investigations, including, prohibiting investigations based on race, limiting the use of undercover agents, and installing a civilian representative that would check officers and ensure all safeguards were followed.

The ACLU said it was the first time that any meaningful safeguards were made to prevent discriminatory surveillance of American Muslim communities.