Public servants today met in San Francisco’s City Hall to discuss concerns over a current policy that allows an anti-terrorism task force to gather information on local residents without first suspecting them of a crime.
The worries stem from a recently surfaced agreement from March 2007 between San Francisco police and the FBI, which assigns officers to a Joint Terrorism Task Force made up of representatives from both agencies.
The agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding, was written by the FBI, and it creates ambiguity about whether local police should be following federal guidelines, said John Crew, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who spoke at today’s meeting.
Crew said the FBI changed its policies shortly after the memorandum was signed, and that the FBI could then collect information on people even if they are not suspected criminals. The memorandum also puts FBI policy above local officers when it comes to the terrorism task force, Crew said.
But Police Chief Greg Suhr said that despite this claim, local policy “trumps” that of the FBI.
“The members of the (task force) are required to comply with department policy even if it conflicts with the FBI,” he said.
Suhr would not say how many officers were on the task force.
Policy written and adopted in the early ’90s requires San Francisco police to have reasonable suspicion of a crime before being allowed to collect information on an individual.
The meeting was only meant for officials to update each other on the status of information gathering activities, but Crew made the suggestion that police do away with the memorandum and instead work with the FBI under a resolution that has been used in other states.
He said that Portland, Ore., has been working with the FBI without a memorandum of understanding and that the collaboration is considered successful.
“What we are saying is they can do their job under local powers,” Crew said.
Human Rights Commission officials also presented a report of testimonies from people who have been racially profiled.
Among many findings, the report found that Muslim women are afraid to wear their religious headscarves, or hijabs, because they are afraid of being attacked in San Francisco.
Immigration attorneys have discovered “good moral character” is a more prevalent requirement for Muslims trying to immigrate than for the attorneys’ other clients, according to the report.
Saul Sugarman, Bay City News