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2010 News Releases

Rhode Island ACLU Seeks Records About FBI Collection Of Racial and Ethnic Data

Posted: July 27, 2010|Category: Discrimination Category: Racial/Ethnic Discrimination

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The Rhode Island ACLU on Tuesday will ask the FBI to turn over records related to the agency’s collection and use of race and ethnicity data in local communities. According to a 2008 FBI operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about and map so-called “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations. ACLU affiliate offices across the nation are filing coordinated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on Tuesday to uncover records about this activity from their local FBI field offices.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said: “We believe it is critical to find out how, and to what extent, the FBI has been using this troubling authority here in Rhode Island. The FBI should be tracking true threats, not targeting entire communities based on race or ethnicity. If the businesses or lifestyles of Muslim or other local communities in the state are being racially profiled, at a minimum they have a right to know about it.”

The FBI’s power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI’s “domain awareness” and “intelligence analysis” activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the DIOG in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January of this year, in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.

“The FBI’s mapping of local communities and businesses based on race and ethnicity, as well as its ability to target communities for investigation based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors, raises serious civil liberties concerns,” said Michael German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. “Creating a law enforcement profile of a neighborhood based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there or the types of businesses they run is unfair, un-American and will certainly not help stop crime.”

In addition to Rhode Island, the FOIA requests were filed in more than a dozen other states by local ACLU affiliates today.

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