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Alarm Raised over the FBI’s Power to Track and Map American Communities

LAS VEGAS, NV –The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada today asked the FBI’s Las Vegas Field Office to turn over records related to the agency’s collection and use of race and ethnicity data in local communities. According to a 2008 FBI operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about and map so-called “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI’s attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria for targeting purposes invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement, says the ACLU. Across the country, the ACLU has questioned this practice.

“Government targeting of specific communities for investigation based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors raises serious civil liberties concerns,” noted Maggie McLetchie, Interim Southern Program Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will bring the full the extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping to light.”

The FBI’s power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI’s “domain awareness” and “intelligence analysis” activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the DIOG in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January of this year in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim advocates. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.

“The public deserves to know about a race-based domestic intelligence program with such troubling implications for civil rights and civil liberties,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will finally bring this important information to light so that the American people can know the extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping practices and whether the agency is abusing its authority.”

ACLU affiliate offices across the nation today filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover records about the FBI’s collection and use of racial and ethnicity data from their local FBI field offices. The requests were filed by the ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arkansas, California (Northern, Southern and San Diego), Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

TAKE ACTION: Ask your members of Congress to find out what the FBI is doing in your neighborhood.

Additional Information

- FBI's Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide provisions in question
- FBI's entire Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide
- ACLU of Nevada's Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI
- National ACLU's Blog of Rights: Is the FBI Engaging in Race-Based Snooping?