Measure Looks to Avoid Repeat of Controversial Secret Interstate Surveillance of Muslim Residents in New Jersey by New York City Police Department
(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor and Annette Quijano that would require out-of-state law enforcement to properly notify law enforcement officials in New Jersey of intended counter-terrorism investigations in the state continues to advance in the Senate. The bill was released by the Senate law and Public Safety Committee on Monday.
“No doubt we must protect our country against the threat of terrorism, but not at the expense of civil liberties. The Attorney General’s review into the NYPD surveillance operation found no laws were broken, but a line was definitely crossed. This bill helps dictate that surveillance in our backyard by other states, without our knowledge and adequate justification, cannot happen again,” said Mainor (D-Hudson).
This legislation was introduced in the wake of last year’s controversy concerning the secret surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups in New Jersey by the New York Police Department. The operations were part of a widespread program by the NYPD to collect intelligence on Muslim communities inside New York and beyond.
Undercover officers and informants eavesdropped in Muslim cafes and monitored sermons, gathering information on people based on their language and ethnicity, even when there was no evidence of a crime. The unit that conducted the surveillance did not generate a lead or case in the six years the program has been in place. The unit has since ceased its operation in New Jersey.
“It’s troubling how the people responsible for the safety of our residents were kept in the dark about this. It’s not only a matter of respect and good will between law enforcement agencies, but a matter of public safety,” said Quijano (D-Union). “We support all efforts to quell terrorism, but we must also make sure that the rights and well-being of our residents are not jeopardized in the process.”
The bill (A-2948) requires out-of-state law enforcement entities to inform the prosecutor of the county – where they intend to conduct counter-terrorism activities – of their intentions 24 hours prior to entering the county. Notification should include, but would not be limited to the nature, purpose and scope of the counter-terrorism activity that the out-of-state entity intends to undertake in the state.
The bill also sets guidelines that should be followed if and when a New Jersey law enforcement agency or officer learns of counter-terrorism activities being conducted in the state by an out-of-state law enforcement agency. Under the bill, the officer or agency is required to notify the county prosecutor, who must then notify the New Jersey State Police within 24 hours of receiving the information that an out-of-state law enforcement entity has entered or intends to enter the state.
If an out-of-state law enforcement agency does not comply with the notification requirements under the bill, the Attorney General or a county prosecutor may seek and obtain a temporary or permanent injunction prohibiting the agency from conducting counter-terrorism activity in the state.
The bill now heads to the Senate Speaker for further consideration.