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U.S. court reviews legality of NYPD Muslim surveillance program

Published: Updated:

A U.S. federal judge revisited on Tuesday a decades-old court settlement restricting how the New York Police Department conducts surveillance, reported UK-based newspaper the Guardian.

The dispute was re-examined due to accusations by civil rights lawyers who claim the department is breaking the rules by monitoring Muslims.

The dispute centers on the Handschu decree which was put in place in the 1960s and 70s in response to surveillance used against war protesters but was relaxed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The decree was relaxed following attacks that killed over 3,000 people on U.S. soil to allow police to freely monitor political activity in public places.

“I’ve come to think of this case as a volcano that's asleep most of the time … but every now and then blows up,” the Guardian reported District Judge Charles Haight as saying at the start of a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

The outcry stems from the NYPD's monitoring of Muslims which includes surveillance where they eat, study and worship as part of its counterterrorism efforts, reported the Guardian.

A city lawyer, Peter Farrell, told the federal judge on Tuesday that the police department launches investigations based on evidence of legitimate threats, not religion.

“It’s undeniable that New York City remains at the center of the threat by Islamists who have been radicalized to violence,” he said.

The “Handschu” decree refers to a 1985 court settlement that set strict rules concerning time limits for investigations, the kinds of records police could keep and created a body to oversee such investigations.