The New York Police Department has been monitoring Muslim college students far more extensively than was previously known, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
The NYPD kept tabs on Muslim student associations across the Northeastern United States, including the Ivy League institutions of Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, the AP found.
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Police spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations (MSAs), which was used as justification for the monitoring.
"The NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs," Browne told the AP in an email. He said police monitored student websites and collected publicly available information between 2006 and 2007.
The police also discussed professors with local authorities, as well as sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed, according to the AP.
"I see a violation of civil rights here," Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse, told the AP. "Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have emphasized that the NYPD only follows legitimate leads about suspected criminal activity. However, the latest documents mention no criminal acts by any Muslim students, the AP reported.
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The universities monitored included Yale; Columbia; the University of Pennsylvania; Syracuse; New York University; Clarkson University; the Newark and New Brunswick campuses of Rutgers; and the State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook and Potsdam, N.Y.; Queens College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College and La Guardia Community College, according to the AP.
“This kind of behavior is not acceptable in an academic environment, especially if it’s a fishing expedition and there is no specific, credible threat,” Angela Burton, an associate professor at the CUNY School of Law, told the student newspaper, the Clarion.
"Like New York City itself, American universities are admired across the globe as places that welcome a diversity of people and viewpoints. So we would obviously be concerned about anything that could chill our essential values of academic freedom or intrude on student privacy," Columbia University spokesman Robert Hornsby said in a written statement.