Controversial NYPD Program of Muslim Surveillance in New York Withdrawn

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By Sounak Mukhopadhyay | April 17, 2014 7:59 AM EST

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has decided to stop its secret surveillance program which apparently aimed to track down spies within Muslim neighborhoods in New York.

REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Files
A woman holds a sign during a rally at Foley Square in New York in this November 18, 2011, file photo. The New York Police Department has disbanded a surveillance unit that targeted and monitored Muslim communities, The New York Times reported on April 15, 2014.

Non-uniformed police officers were earlier sent to those areas to initially gather information on potential terror plots.

The Zone Assessment Unit of the NYPD, which was established with the aid of CIA after the 9/11 attack in 2001, got engaged in secretly spreading its police officers in business establishments owned by Muslims within New York. Surveillance in mosques has also been halted. The program has been quite controversial and faced several civil lawsuits.

New York Post reported Police Commissioner Bill Bratton expressed his agreement on disbanding the unit which began in 2003. The original intention of the program was to identify Islamic radical groups and possible locations where terrorists might meet to discuss terror plots.

All activities were monitored in any location where Muslims gather while secretly taking notes on their possible conversations. The main purpose also included having a stronger perception of what Muslims thought about the U.S.

The unit was also earlier called as the demographics unite.

CNN reported the department issued a statement on April 15, claiming the program "had been largely inactive since January." Personnel who were previously engaged in the assignment have been assigned other responsibilities.

According to the statement, "Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing information regarding potential threats."

The program faced lawsuits from a couple of advocacy groups. The lawsuits challenged the unit and its activities. According to the advocacy groups, the disbanding is welcome but it should be ensured that the surveillance stops.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates issued a joint statement saying dismantling of the Demographics Unit was welcome but the "unconstitutional" NYPD program must be stopped. The statement added it should be ensured "through litigation and advocacy" that NYPD showed respect to the rights of the Muslim community.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Files / )
A woman holds a sign during a rally at Foley Square in New York in this November 18, 2011, file photo. The New York Police Department has disbanded a surveillance unit that targeted and monitored Muslim communities, The New York Times reported on April 15, 2014.
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