Updated 2/19/12, 11:00 p.m.
The New York Police Department monitored the website of Columbia’s Muslim Students Association as recently as 2007, the Associated Press reported.
According to the report, the NYPD monitored Muslim student groups at both New York City schools and at schools well outside of the city, including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. The AP first reported in October that the NYPD had placed undercover officers in Muslim student groups at eight NYC colleges, but the new report is the first to indicate that students at Columbia were also under surveillance.
MSA Vice President Maliha Tariq, BC ’13, said that “the NYPD’s actions are not acceptable.”
“It’s not about the police following leads or evidence; this is about them mapping communities and targeting people based on assumptions and ideas, not facts,” Tariq said in an email.
Alay Syed, BC ’15 and an MSA member, said the report of online surveillance does not come as a surprise.
“Honestly, I am barely fazed by this news,” Syed said. “Most Muslims in New York already have the idea that they are being watched.”
A November 2006 “Weekly MSA Report” obtained by the AP stated that officers from the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence unit visited the websites of various Muslim student groups, including Columbia’s, as part of a “daily routine.” In addition to online surveillance, the NYPD also embedded undercover agents at some schools, including the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“The recent [AP] article mentions that no wrong doings have been reported in these ‘Weekly MSA Reports’ and quite frankly, we are disturbed by the fact that all of this is so rampant,” Tariq said.
Police spokesperson Paul Browne defended the department’s investigation of Muslim student organizations, telling the AP that 12 people who have been arrested or convicted on terrorism charges were previously members of their schools’ Muslim student groups.
“As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at” Muslim student organizations, Browne said in an email, adding that police only monitored the organizations between 2006 and 2007 and only kept track of publicly available information.
Syed said that the NYPD violated students’ rights and that “talking about how wrong this entire situation is won’t do much.”
“I know that I can’t trust the NYPD—the people who are supposed to be protecting me,” she said.
“I hope that by keeping tabs on us, they see that we are good people and not all of us fit the stereotypes,” she added.
University spokesperson Robert Hornsby told the AP that Columbia “would obviously be concerned about anything that could chill our essential values of academic freedom or intrude on student privacy.”
“Like New York City itself, American universities are admired across the globe as places that welcome a diversity of people and viewpoints,” Hornsby said in a statement.
Tariq said in an email that she hopes Columbia can work with the MSA “to ensure students feel safe and feel like their freedoms are not at risk in anyway.”
“We have no intention of letting this slow us down or deter our organization from functioning normally,” Tariq said. “In fact, it will only make us unite, organize and work harder for social justice."
Syed, too, doubts that the news of police monitoring “will upset the community too much.”
“We are strong, intelligent people—having fingers pointed at us won’t scare us,” she said. “It hasn’t scared us for the past decade. It won’t do so in the years to come.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a Columbia spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. Spectator regrets the error.