ACLU asks FBI offices for records on race, ethnicity

The ACLU of Virginia has asked the FBI field offices in Richmond and Norfolk to turn over records related to the agency’s collection and use of data on race and ethnicity in local communities.

According to an FBI operations guide, agents have the authority to collect information about “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

The ACLU of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act request, made on Tuesday, is part of a coordinated effort by 32 ACLU affiliates across the country to obtain these FBI documents.

“The FBI’s mapping of local communities and businesses based on race and ethnicity, as well as its ability to target communities for investigation based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors, raises serious civil liberties concerns,” said Michael German, an ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. “Creating a profile of a neighborhood for criminal law enforcement or domestic intelligence purposes based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there or the types of businesses they run is unfair, un-American and will certainly not help stop crime.”

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 later made public a less-censored version in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Although the DOIG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented it.

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.

“Last year, the governor of Virginia announced an investigation into the Virginia Fusion Center after it told law enforcement officials that areas with high concentrations of minorities were a threat to national security,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The FBI program looks like racial stereotyping of the same stripe. We need to find out what they’re up to.”

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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