Federal judge dismisses mosque surveillance lawsuit to protect state secrets

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against the FBI [official website] alleging that it illegally directed its agents to spy on Muslim communities. Judge Cormac Carney dismissed the case after concluding that allowing the lawsuit to move forward would risk exposing important state secrets. The suit is based on information from a former FBI agent who says he was directed to convert to Islam and gather information [ACLU-SC case profile] about hundreds of members of various Muslim communities. It was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy websites]. The FBI has disputed the scope of the investigation, saying the investigation was focused on specific individuals suspected of terrorist activity. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] invoked the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] in the case last year. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] then filed a motion to dismiss claims and for summary judgment, claiming that without the privileged information many of the claims against the FBI could not continue. Carney said in his decision that although he was uncomfortable with the conduct of the government, he found that the government interest of security outweighed the interests of the plaintiffs in this case. Carney allowed suits against individual FBI agents to go forward.

US law enforcement has come under scrutiny for targeting Muslim communities for surveillance in the past. A Muslim rights group filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in June seeking to end a New York Police Department (NYPD) controversial surveillance program, which allegedly targets Muslim communities. In 2010, the FBI responded to criticism [press release] regarding alleged investigations into mosques and the Muslim community claiming that "the FBI [does not] have a surveillance program to monitor the constitutionally protected activities of houses of worship." A year earlier, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the FBI will continue investigating mosques [JURIST report] when there may be evidence or information regarding criminal wrongdoings after the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan sent a complaint to Holder alleging the FBI had been asking members of the Islamic community to spy on religious leaders and followers.

 

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