SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal standard used by law enforcement to identify potential terrorist activity was legally adopted and not arbitrary, a federal judge said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco on Monday dismissed a 2014 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that alleged the standard led to the identification of innocent people as potential terrorists.
The program at issue in the case — the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative — has state and local law enforcement flag behavior they think reasonably indicates terrorism-related planning or other criminal activity and report it to the FBI or federally funded law enforcement centers.
The program began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The ACLU sued on behalf of five California men, arguing that the "reasonably indicative" standard was too broad and ensnared innocent people. One of the plaintiffs, James Prigoff, said a member of a joint-terrorism task force visited his home months after he tried to photograph a piece of public art in Boston.
Another plaintiff, Khaled Ibrahim, an accountant of Egyptian descent, said a "suspicious activity report" was filed about him after he tried to make a bulk computer purchase for work. Another man, Tariq Razak, a biotech industry worker of Pakistani descent, says he aroused suspicion while inside a train station on his way to a county employment resource center with his mother, who was wearing a head covering.
The ACLU of Northern California said it was examining options for an appeal.
"If the federal government wants to amass huge volumes of data about innocent Americans, at the very least it must give a reasoned basis for doing so and provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposal. The government did neither here," Linda Lye, an attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement.
Seeborg said in his ruling that federal officials did not have to provide public notice and a chance for public comment before adopting the "reasonably indicative" standard.
The standard was also not arbitrary, the judge said, citing a government report that said it was "an essential privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection because it emphasizes a behavior-focused approach to identifying suspicious activity and mitigates the risk of profiling based upon race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation or activity."