FOIA Documents From FBI Show Unconstitutional Racial Profiling

The FBI has been targeting American communities for investigation based on race, ethnicity, national origin and religion according to documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show that FBI analysts across the country are associating criminal behaviors with certain racial and ethnic groups and then using U.S. census data and other demographic information to map where those communities are located to investigate them.

“The use of profiling as a tool to address crime and national security threats is not only unconstitutional, it is ineffective and counterproductive,” said Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and a former FBI agent. “Targeting entire communities for investigation based on erroneous stereotypes produces flawed intelligence. Experience shows that terrorists and criminals do not fit into neat racial or religious stereotypes – law enforcement programs based on evidence and facts are effective, and a system of bias and mass suspicion is not.”

The documents are being released as part of a new ACLU initiative called “Mapping the FBI,” which aims to expose misconduct and abuse of authority by the bureau. Instances of profiling revealed in the FBI memos and intelligence notes include:

  • Noting an increase in the “black/African American populations in Georgia” and non-violent protests by the African-American community in the state after police shootings to identify potential threats from “Black Separatist” groups.
  • Using the fact that San Francisco is “home to one of the oldest Chinatowns in North America and one of the largest ethnic Chinese populations outside mainland China” to justify opening an investigation involving racial and ethnic mapping because “[w]ithin this community there has been organized crime for generations.”
  • Using the threat posed by the criminal gang MS-13, which was originally started by Salvadoran immigrants, to justify broad investigations targeting a wide variety of Latino communities in Alabama, New Jersey and Georgia.
  • Seeking to collect information about Muslim and Arab communities in Michigan, arguing that “because Michigan has a large Middle Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by… terrorist groups.”

“The FBI’s own documents confirm our worst fears about how it is using its overly expansive surveillance and racial profiling authority. The FBI has targeted minority American communities around the country for investigation based not on suspicion of actual wrongdoing, but on the crudest stereotypes about which groups commit different types of crimes,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is entirely within Attorney General Holder’s power to put an immediate end to these unconstitutional practices by changing the internal Justice Department and FBI rules that permit them to occur.”


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