Rights group accuses FBI of illegal domestic spying
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Last Updated: Friday, December 02, 2011, 15:17
New York: The FBI has been spying on Muslim groups in America, using their community outreach programmes as a facade to secretly collect and share with other law enforcement agencies personal information about people from the community, a US rights organisation has said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has in a report said that the FBI has been "systematically" storing in intelligence files, memos containing names, identifying information, opinions, activities of community groups, positions of group leaders and the racial, ethnic and national origin of Muslim community group members.

"The FBI is doing this intelligence collection through community outreach programmes programmes that are supposed to build trust and rapport with the public without telling community groups or their members what it is doing," the ACLU said.

ACLU accessed FBI documents through the Freedom of Information Act and cited in its report how federal agents attended Ramadan Iftar dinners, events by Pakistani organisations and used mosque outreach programmes to gather information about the community's political and religious beliefs.

ACLU said FBI has turned outreach programmes into a "secretive domestic intelligence initiative."

By using community outreach programmes to gather intelligence, the FBI is violating the privacy of the people and "jeopardising the trust and rapport with community groups and the public that is essential to effective law enforcement in a democratic society."

ACLU demanded that the FBI stop using outreach to gather intelligence and should be honest with community organisations about the information it gathers during outreach meetings.

It should also purge all illegally collected information, it said.

ACLU said the FBI used an outreach programme in 2008 to document identities of a Pakistani community organisation's officers, directors and advisors.

Similarly in 2007 and 2008, FBI agents attended Ramadan Iftar dinners under the guise of the FBI's mosque outreach programme and recorded in case files the names of attendees, contents of participants' conversations and presentations, individuals' contact information.

The agency then conducted internet searches to obtain further information about the individuals in attendance at the dinners.

In 2007, FBI agents attended a mosque outreach meeting in which 50 people representing 27 Muslim community and religious organizations were participating.

It analysed the "demographics" of those in attendance and identified each individual by name and organization.

The information was then stored in intelligence files, shared with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and potentially used to target these individuals, their organizations or communities for further investigation, ACLU said.

The FBI responded to ACLU's report saying its community outreach programme is designed to enhance public trust in the FBI in order to enlist the cooperation of the public to fight criminal activity, not for intelligence-gathering purposes.

"The community outreach program also provides information to the public in support of crime prevention efforts and opens lines of communication to help make the FBI more responsive to community concerns," the agency said.


First Published: Friday, December 02, 2011, 12:51

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