Five Californians are fighting the Department of Justice in court over the fact that they have been entered into a terrorism database over entirely innocent activities such as taking photographs, buying a computer, and even waiting for relatives to arrive at a train station.
Court House News reports that the ACLU and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus are representing the plaintiffs, who have been entered into a “Suspicious Activity Reports” (SAR) database, and could remain on it for decades to come.
The database is part of a federal government program which encourages local and state law enforcement to report any “suspicious activity” they believe could be related to terrorism. The database is just one of many managed through the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial fusion centers.
According to a government report, over 35,000 names had been added to the database by 2013.
“An individual who is reported in a SAR is flagged as a person with a potential nexus to terrorism and automatically falls under law enforcement scrutiny which may include intrusive questioning by local or federal law enforcement agents.” the legal complaint notes.
“Even when the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes that the person did not have any nexus to terrorism, a SAR can haunt that individual for decades, as SARs remain in federal databases for up to 30 years,” the complaint adds.
One of the plaintiffs, James Prigoff, an 86-year-old internationally renowned photographer of public art, has been on the database for a decade now, after he was “caught” taking pictures of a piece of modern art in Boston in 2004. When private security guards reported the incident to police, the FBI got involved, paying a visit to Prigoff’s house, and questioning his neighbors, according to the lawsuit.
Taking pictures of public landmarks, and taking pictures from public land is protected under the First Amendment to The Constitution.
“All I was doing was taking pictures in a public place, and now I’m apparently in a government terrorism database for decades,” Prigoff said in a statement issued by the ACLU.
“This is supposed to be a free country, where the government isn’t supposed to be tracking you if you’re not doing anything wrong. I lived through the McCarthy era, and I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the SAR program may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today.”
Another of the men, lead plaintiff Wiley Gill, was entered onto the database because he was identified as a “Suspicious Male Subject in Possession of Flight Simulator Game,” by the Chico Police Department in 2012. The key fact that made Gill suspicious was that he converted to Islam while a student at a state university. Gill says that he does not own a flight simulator game, and was merely browsing a website about a video game on his computer at home. That’s correct, In America you can be entered into a terrorism database for looking at a video game website in your own home.
“The only reason that someone deemed Mr. Gill ‘suspicious’ is because he is a devout Muslim, not because he has done anything wrong,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus attorney Nasrina Bargzie said in a statement. “With such a lax standard, it’s not surprising that the result is religious profiling of this nature. Racial and religious profiling of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities needs to stop.”
Another of the plaintiffs was put on the terror database because he attempted to buy some computer equipment in bulk from Best Buy. The fact that Khaled Ibrahim, a U.S. citizen, is a computer network consultant didn’t matter – he has a Muslimy name, so whack him on there.
Another US citizen, Tariq Razak was placed on the terror database because he was “observed surveying entry/exit points” at the Santa Ana Train Depot. The report entered into the database describes Razak as a “Male of Middle Easter decent”, and says he was seen “exiting the facility with a female wearing a white burka head dress.” In reality he was picking up his mother from the train station. The report also referred to him as an “Arab”, despite the fact that he is of Pakistani descent. The report also contained the make, model and license plate number of Razak’s car. The security officer responsible for making the report claims that everything she did complied with the “terrorism training” she had received from the local police department’s terrorism liaison officers.
Other activities deemed to be potentially terroristic include “Abandoning a [hotel] room and leaving behind clothing, toiletries, or other items”; “Refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods”; and “Multiple visitors or deliveries to one individual or room.”
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the SAR database, the program has failed to result in any arrests, convictions, or thwarted threats. ZERO. NADA.
What it has done, however, is create a sea of utter bullshit that government workers have to waste their time dealing with. In 2012, a Senate subcommittee found “‘dozens of problematic or useless’ reports ‘potentially violating civil liberties protections,'” according to the complaint.
“The Justice Department’s own rules say that there should be reasonable suspicion before creating a record on someone, but the government’s instructions to local police are that they should write up SARs even if there’s no valid reason to suspect a person of doing anything wrong,” ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said in the statement.
Steve Watson is a London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.