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Responding To NYPD Surveillance Of Muslims In NJ, Cunningham-Stack Bill Would Protect Public Privacy

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Measure Would Establish Reporting Requirements for Out-Of-State Law Enforcement Agencies Conducting Investigations in New Jersey

TRENTON – In response to the recent discovery of the New York City Police Department (NYPD)’s surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey as a part of secret counter-terrorism efforts, Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Brian Stack sponsored legislation that would protect the privacy of the public by setting forth guidelines related to out-of-state law enforcement conducting counter-terrorism activities in New Jersey. The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday unanimously approved the legislation.

“The NYPD’s secret counter-terrorism efforts conducted on New Jersey soil demonstrate a blatant disregard for individual rights and government transparency,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “Surveillance efforts that target specific ethnic or racial groups are particularly dangerous, as they lead to widespread discrimination and deny suspects the presumption of innocence. In order to prevent future cases of racial profiling and protect the privacy of all New Jersey residents, this legislation is the right thing to do.”

The bill, S-2311/A-2948, would require a New Jersey law enforcement agency or officer who acquires knowledge that an out-of-state law enforcement agency intends to enter or has entered New Jersey for purposes of conducting counter-terrorism investigations to notify the county prosecutor. In addition, the bill would require that out-of-state law enforcement entities inform the county prosecutor 24 hours before entering the borders of the county in New Jersey to conduct counter-terrorism activities.

Within the 24 hour period established under the bill, the county prosecutor would be required to report the out-of-state law enforcement agency’s activity to the counter-terrorism watch within the Division of State Police. Upon receiving this information, the counter-terrorism watch would notify the Superintendent of State Police, the Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the designated staff of the Joint Terrorism Task Force within the Division of State Police.

Under provisions of the bill, the Attorney General or a county prosecutor could seek a temporary permanent injunction in a summary proceeding in Superior Court upon finding that an out-of-state law enforcement agency has not complied with notification requirements pursuant to the bill. Lastly, the legislation would allow the court to enter an order to prevent the out-of-state law enforcement entity from conducting the counter-terrorism activity or require compliance with the provisions of the bill.

“Monitoring known affiliates of terrorist organizations is necessary for national security, but this can be done without indiscriminately spying on countless of law-abiding New Jersey residents,” said Senator Stack, D-Hudson. “The more we learn about the NYPD’s secret surveillance efforts in New Jersey, the more it is clear that we need a systematic way for local officials to learn about investigations that are going on within their borders. This legislation will greatly improve government accountability and help restore the public’s trust in law enforcement.”

In June 2009, a building superintendent during a regularly scheduled inspection discovered a secret command center set up by a team of NYPD intelligence officers in an apartment complex in New Brunswick near the Rutgers University campus. No local law enforcement officers or agents were informed that the New York City Police Department was conducting counter-terrorism activities outside of their jurisdiction and on New Jersey soil. This discovery set off public outrage about the privacy concerns of secret surveillance and led to further investigations about the out-of-state operations of the NYPD.

Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the NYPD, with training and guidance from the CIA, has monitored the activities of Muslims across the Northeast and as far away as New Orleans, according to an Associated Press report. Investigations conducted in early 2012 revealed that the NYPD infiltrated and photographed Muslim businesses and mosques in New Jersey, as well as monitoring the Internet postings of Muslim college students, including student groups at Rutgers. According to court testimony from last August, no terrorist leads were generated by NYPD’s secret Demographics Unit in over six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations, and cataloguing mosques.

The bill was approved by the General Assembly last October by a vote of 76-3-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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