ACLU: FBI practicing racial profiling on an "industrial scale"

The ACLU has sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder documenting its disturbing research into the use of racial profiling in the FBI's anti-terrorism efforts. According to the ACLU, the FBI practices "racial profiling on an industrial scale," targetting people of Muslim faith on the basis of their religion rather than any violent tendencies or beliefs.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests – some backed up with lawsuits – to find out how the FBI is using racial and ethnic data as part of its investigations.

“The documents we have started to receive confirm our worst fears,” ACLU officials wrote to Attorney General Holder. “Although often heavily redacted, these documents, obtained from a number of different field offices, demonstrate that FBI analysts are using improper and crude racial stereotypes regarding the types of crimes committed by different racial and ethnic groups and then collecting demographic data to map where people of those racial or ethnic groups live.”

The result, charges the ACLU, has been “racial profiling on an industrial scale.”



  1. I know “race” is kind of a fuzzy word to begin with, but does anybody else find it strange that it now apparently can be used to refer just to a person’s religion? To stay consistent we’d have to say that a child who grows up and disavows her parents’ religion has made a change of race.

    I think any usage of this kind is just trying to piggyback on all the social taboos that the word “racism” has acquired.

    1. It’s racial profiling AND religious profiling. Just because they profile by religion does not mean that the racial profiling is irrelevant. One of the egregious oversights of this sort of profiling, (geographical) is that today geography is becoming less and less important. With the internet your peers are not based on physical proximity they are by ideological proximity. Bitter radicals will find bitter radicals, and not based on geography. If there should be any kind of profiling it should be based on conversational words used, not beliefs, race, geography or religion. 

    2. You are technically correct that in the case of prejudice against Muslims, “bigotry” is a more accurate term. However, given that your average anti-Muslim bigot would feel the same revulsion upon seeing an Arab Druze or Christian, the charge of racism is appropriate.

    3. I know “race” is kind of a fuzzy word to begin with, but does anybody else find it strange that it now apparently can be used to refer just to a person’s religion?

      If they were profiling blue-eyed blonds for looking Muslim, you might have a point. But they aren’t, so you don’t. They’re profiling people for LOOKING Muslim, which means that they’re profiling based on skin color, hair color, eye color and clothing and hair styles. What part of that isn’t race-based? And why are you so desperately trying to sweep racism under the rug?

      1. I’m not interested in defending anybody’s actions, I’m interested in observing the word usage in the summary. I haven’t even read the linked article. At best this is a case of a sloppy summary, that claims racism is present but then elaborates about something else. “Profiling people for LOOKING muslim” can’t be defended from the summary itself, which says “targetting people of Muslim faith on the basis of their religion”.

  2. The conflation of race and religion here is deeply troubling. It appears that the conflation is being done by the Christian Science Monitor, so less to see here. The actual ACLU statement is that the FBI is using crude profiling along a number of dimensions, including both race and religion.

  3. To me this reminds me of the days when Atheists were profiled as violent deconstructionists. I wasn’t an atheist then, and I’m not a Muslim now, but I think this kind of profiling is (and always was) counterproductive. Sure there were some Atheistic anarcho-terrorists, still are; but if the FBI is narrowing their focus to a single group it will stop  them from preventing the next terrorist attack.

    1. Certainly particular examples of profiling may be flawed, but I really have to wonder if people who object to profiling in principle really get the idea of Bayesian analysis. Scientists do profiling all the time; we call it establishing the prior. For example, someone interested in cancer will study previous tumors and see what cell types were the source. There isn’t an equal probability, even if you can find examples of tumors arising from unlikely cell types.

  4. If one had nearly zero ethical constraints, and If one were charged with catching every terrorist effort wherein “terrorism” is commonly accepted to be: public violence by someone that appears to have more melanin than Mitt Romney, then (given that) would you say that racial/religious profiling is an unlikely approach? (“false premises give rise to psychotic actions” –hal9000)

  5. Hey, know why terrorists attack us? (not that they really need to after 9/11)

    It’s because we’re the bad guys

    And we’ll continue to be the bad guys until every one of our 1000+ military bases is gone.

  6. For the people who think that what they are doing is fine…
    While it is true that you may not find the next osama binladin at a christian church, you’re also not going to find timothy mcveigh in the local mosque.

    You don’t see the FBI doing the same shit to all the white christian folks’s lives because of the actions of timmy, the kkk, the hells angels, the maffia, etc.

    Statistically speaking, if somebody is going to kill you in the US, it’s most likely going to be a white christian american.

    1. Statistically speaking, if somebody is going to kill you in the US, it’s most likely going to be a white christian american.

      while absolutely true, we were assuming here that the FBI wasn’t being employed to prevent folks from driving and drinking and texting nor even robbing the kwikee mart.  statisticians [shows secret tattoo for bona fides] would call this an error of factor assignment.

      as to timothy mcveigh (or for that matter the anthrax murderer) those [magic media wave] aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

    2. You don’t see the FBI doing the same shit to all the white christian folks’s lives because of the actions of timmy, the kkk, the hells angels, the maffia, etc.

      You don’t think the FBI investigates white separatist and extremist movements in the US? You must be joking.

  7. Does anyone have any statistics on Americans causing terrorism in other countries?  I know we have grown some local ones over the decades, but maybe I’ve just forgot about an American bombing somewhere else.

  8. Considering that a white guy got pulled of a plane for Arabic flashcards and not Muslim flashcards, I fail to not see it as racism.  I’m an atheist and I still get the third degree at airports because of my name.

    Or is it not racism because they think I’m Muslim? It’s a perverse threadjack, and a common distraction from the real issue to try and argue (unconvincingly) that racism never once taints the waters of this particular bigotry.

  9. I’ll never forget riding on a plane during 2008, and a sweet-seeming woman was sitting next to me.  She started talking to me at some point, and she brought up politics and Obama.  She whispered “Did you know he’s a MUSLIM?”  I wanted to say, “Why does that matter?”  Instead, I went looking for my headphones and iPod.  A lot of this country is bigoted.

  10. Color me surprised (and not an asshole, hopefully.  Really let me explain this next sentence!), but this is one of the few cases I’ve seen where a claim of racial profiling is ACTUALLY violating rights.

    Most often, I here racial profiling claims in regards to black or hispanic people who were (for whatever reason) accosted by the police and it turned out that they had violated *some* law, major or minor, and wound up with a citation or going to jail.  Police NEED the ability to approach anybody for any reason and initiate contact.  Of course, that person doesn’t have to answer a single damn question.  That’s how the 5th amendment works.

    In the situation I describe above, the real problem is not racial profiling, the problem is that our governments have passed so many minor laws that we all violate without knowing, and the police use these laws as Probable Cause for arrest/detainment/unwarranted searches, which upon completing they can charge us with any number of insane laws that we didn’t know we were violating.  Ham-stringing our cops out on the beat with claims of racial profiling doesn’t help anybody.  Passing law after law so that “everybody is guilty of something” doesn’t help society or help prevent/fix/solve crimes.

    Anyways, back to the topic.  Using race/ethnicity/nationality as a Reasonable Suspicion for surveilance (wiretaps as well?  I don’t know, I didn’t read the article, whoops )  is about the most unAmerican thing I can think of.  Well thats not true, our government does plenty of other anti-individual-freedom/unAmerican things.

  11. Are they discriminating between NASCAR and INDY, or just the horses and dogs?

    Oh, the silly 19th century idea that the are more than one race of humans. How quaint.

    Now if you are doing ethnic profiling because there are people, and I don’t mean Grandmas and school girls, that want to blow themselves up over some weird religious fervor, I’m cool with that.

  12. Nothing particularly new about this.  Google “fbi and profiling” and you should get a few good reads about how the FBI has essentially since the beginning doubled down on unproven, worthless, and dangerous tactics for investigating crimes.  The culture there seems to be more about playing the latest version of “cowboys ‘n indians” than actually investigating or stopping crime.

  13. Woah, really?  The 1st amendment affirms freedom of association as well as freedom of religion.  That is, the government cannot use those things as justification for arrest/probable cause/searches/seizures or negatively interacting with you in any way shape or form.

    I wouldn’t want to live under a government that *could* do any of that stuff for any reason… and it scares me that there are people in the world who would.

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