Supreme Court Rules in Favor of FBI in Case of Spying On Muslims

On March 4, the United States Supreme Court overturned a ruling from an appellate court in favor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The supreme court unanimously ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has lesser precedence over state secrets privilege.

State secrets privilege allows the federal government to "block the release of any information in a lawsuit" if its release can lead to a breach of national security.

In 2019, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of three Muslim plaintiffs who accused the FBI of targetting them for surveillance because of their religion. The surveillance, which included other Muslim targets, was initiated by the FBI in the wake of the September 11 attack.

Plaintiffs Yassir Fazaga, Ali Uddin Malik, and Yasser Abdel Rahim claimed that the FBI had violated the US Constitution's First Amendment. The group said that the unreasonable searches and seizures espoused in the Fourth Amendment were also violated.

From 2006 to 2007, the FBI's Los Angeles office hired Craig Monteilh as an informant, infiltrating several mosques in Orange County. For 14 months, Monteilh gathered phone numbers and emails and secretly recorded video and audio footage.

Fazaga, an imam at the Orange County Islamic Foundation, in an interview with Al Jazeera, said the "potential for abuse is just so unbelievably great." Fazaga set their situation to Christian churches. "Imagine putting recording devices in the confessional in a Catholic church," Fazaga said.

"People trust their religious leaders; people come and share their most intimate details with us," he said.

The case was initially dismissed by a district court judge, leaving one claim out of the 11 claims made by Fazaga and his co-plaintiffs. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals picked up the case, arguing that "the district court should have reviewed any state secrets evidence necessary for a determination of whether the alleged surveillance was unlawful."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who represented the plaintiffs, denounced the supreme court's ruling. In a Tweet, ACLU labeled the ruling "a dangerous sign for religious freedom and government accountability."

The group also accused the government of evading accountability by evoking the state secret privilege. The group said that the government is trying to "conceal abuses and thwart accountability in the courts."

"Our clients deserve justice," ACLU declared. The group is now planning to submit an appeal for further litigation since claims are not yet dismissed.

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