New York police surveillance of Muslims appears popular, but is it legal?

March 13, 2012

(Hamzah Ali protests during a rally against the New York police in New York November 18, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Burton)

New York City voters overwhelmingly support the New York Police Department’s anti-terrorism campaign even as provisions of it have come under criticism from civil rights groups who question the legality how police target Muslims. The Quinnipiac University poll, released on Tuesday, found respondents approved by 63 percent to 31 the way New York police are doing their job and said by 82 percent to 14 percent the NYPD has been effective combating terrorism.

The poll of 964 New York City voters showed Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly won better than 2-to-1 approval ratings and voters said police act appropriately in how they deal with Muslims by a margin of 58 percent to 29 percent. Kelly won an approval rating of 64 percent to 25 percent, according to the poll, which was taken March 6-11 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Support among New Yorkers comes as questions have been raised about the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism campaign, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department was reviewing letters expressing concern over the NYPD’s surveillance program.

Legal experts say any court challenge based on claims of racial or religious profiling would face high hurdles. Instead, they say, any successful case would likely come down to a single paragraph in a longstanding court order that governs the department’s surveillance of political activity. The paragraph, part of the “Handschu guidelines,” sets conditions for NYPD officers who visit public places or events during anti-terrorism investigations. It prohibits them from keeping records of their observations unless the information is related to “potential unlawful activity” – a ban that critics say the NYPD has ignored.

Read the full story by Joseph Ax here. See also Analysis: Is NYPD’s monitoring of Muslims legal??
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