ACLU of Florida wants records on FBI racial and ethnic profiling
Is the FBI keeping records about your race or ethnicity? The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is concerned enough that it filed Freedom of Information Act requests today. The ACLU of Florida filed FOIA requests with the FBI field offices in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville to find out how the law enforcement agency collects, uses, and maps racial and ethnic data.
ACLU branches in other states are also filing similar FOIA requests.
Muslima Lewis is senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida and director of their Racial Justice and Voting Rights projects.
"We requested information that will actually shed some light for us and for the general public on a practice that the FBI is undertaking. That is to collect racial and ethnic data in communities throughout the country. Our requests are focused on the data and information that's being collected and used in Florida. It is data of a racial and ethnic nature, so we have serious concerns about how that data is being used because of the potential for racial and ethnic profiling."
"What kind of data are being collected, and why do you think the FBI are interested in this data?"
"We're actually trying to figure out exactly what type of data is being collected, but it's data relating to the ethnic and racial make up of communities, neighborhoods, and even getting business related information in communities that may have racial or ethnic populations."
"One of the documents that you seem to be concerned about is The FBI's Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide. Can you tell our listeners what's in that, that you're concerned about?"
"Right. Well, it is this 'FBI's Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide' that sets forth the type of racial and ethnic data that is being collected. While that guide has been in place for a while, it only became available to the general public actually, at the end of last year. And then, a more unredacted version became available in response to a lawsuit in January of this year. So the information is being collected pursuing to that guidance."
"So let's say you do find information, from the FBI, that they are collecting ethnic oriented data. Why would that be a problem?"
"It's a problem because when you have targeted enforcement or targeted investigations, and those enforcements or investigations are being targeted based on the racial or ethnic composition of a community or a group, then that's problematic. Not only does that not lend towards effective policing, but it has great potential for racial and ethnic profiling, which is illegal and contrary to fundamental values that we hold as Americans."
"Are there certain ethnic or racial groups that you think are more vulnerable to this type of ethnic profiling?"
"You know, we don't know yet. Until we get responses from our public records requests, we won't know what communities have been targeted. But we do know that there have been communities that have been traditionally targeted for racial profiling by various law enforcement agencies. So, we are especially vigilant when it comes to those communities. So it could be communities of African descent or Latino communities. And certainly in our post 9/11 environment, Muslim communities and communities of South Asian descent. We're generally concerned, but we do know that those communities have been targeted in the past by law enforcement."
"Thank you. Those were my only questions. Is there anything else our listeners should know about this?"
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"No. I just would like to indicate that we're getting this information and hopefully we'll get responses to these public record requests. And we will in turn make that information available to the public. We do think it's very important for everyone to know what our law enforcement agencies are doing. This is a program that the ACLU of Florida is participating in, together with our national office and other offices throughout the country to provide this information to the general public, to raise public awareness, and also to ensure some vigilance so that we are comfortable with the way that our law enforcement agencies, in this case the FBI, are engaging in investigations and mapping of our communities."