The New York Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Police Department over allegations of unconstitutional spying on Muslims in the city.
The suit claims the department's surveillance of Muslim-owned businesses, mosques and Muslim student groups routinely violates the civil rights of residents.
"They were subjected to unlawful surveillance by NYPD informants, plainclothes officers and video cameras, all based on their religion and without any evidence of wrongdoing," said Hima Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project.
"Our mosque should be an open religious and spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship," said Imam Hamid Hassan Raza of Masjid al-Ansar.
The complaint names Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the head of the NYPD's intelligence division as defendants.
Asad Gandia, one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs, who runs a charity organization, says he was befriended by an NYPD informant and tricked into thinking they were friends.
"I felt betrayed and hurt because someone I took as a friend and brother was lying to me and used me. I was afraid for my parents because this guy slept over in my home and I didn't know how to react. How would you react if you found out someone who spent the night at your house was an informant working for the police department?" said Asad Gandia of Muslims Giving Back.
The groups filing suit said that any kind of religious profiling has a chilling effect on their community.
"Because of our knowledge and fear that the NYPD is spying on us, I have for years taped the sermons I give, because I'm afraid an NYPD officer or an informant will misquote me or take a portion of a sermon out of context," said
The surveillance program uses informants to report on the activities of various Muslim groups.
The city Law Department responded to the lawsuit with a statement that reads, "The NYPD's strategic approach to combating terrorism is legal, appropriate and designed to keep our City safe. The NYPD recognizes the critical importance of 'on-the-ground' research, as police need to be informed about where a terrorist may go while planning or what they may do after an attack, as the Boston Marathon bombing proved. Cities cannot play catch-up in gathering intelligence about a terrorist threat. Our results speak for themselves, with New York being the safest big city in America and the police having helped thwart several terrorist plots in recent years."
The NYPD also issued a statement which reads, in part, "...criticisms, whether ill-informed or calculated, will not deter the NYPD from fully respecting the Constitution and protecting the public from those intent on killing more New Yorkers."
The department said it follows federal guidelines that allow them to visit any place and attend any event that's open to the public.
The NYPD has said in the past that the program is constitutional and has helped the department investigate many terror plots since the September 11th attacks.