Arab American group calls Illinois State Police surveillance ‘discriminatory’

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A Chicago-based Arab American advocacy group says the Illinois State Police’s efforts to monitor suspected terrorism threats are “discriminatory” and it wants a judge to make the secret information public.

“Everyone has a right to privacy, and we believe that people have a right to due process and a right to know,” Muhammad Sankari, a lead organizer with the Arab American Action Network, told reporters downtown Friday. “As we’ve seen with other databases and other surveillance programs, all of that gets swept under the rug in the name of fighting terrorism and fighting gang violence or any other number of excuses that law enforcement uses.”

Lawyers for the AAAN filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court in February to force the state police to release so-called “Suspicious Activity Reports” and related documents. Lawyers for both sides were at the Daley Center on Friday just long enough for a Cook County judge to set a July 12 hearing date as the case makes its way through the system.

A state police spokeswoman said she could not discuss pending litigation.

The AAAN said in the lawsuit that the state police has violated the Freedom of Information Act by “willfully and intentionally refusing” to provide records requested by the advocacy group.

“The SARs program infringes on the civil rights and liberties of people in the United States,” according to the suit. “Members of the Arab and Muslim community, in particular, are vulnerable to biased determinations of whether their everyday activities can be deemed ‘suspicious’ by law enforcement officers and others.”

In an April court filing in response to the lawsuit, lawyers for the state police acknowledged that it uses SARs and “other documents.” But the lawyers denied the AAAN’s claim that it works with “seemingly no transparency or public oversight.”

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