Much of the information collected by the FBI about its surveillance of several Southern California Muslim activists and organizations will remain sealed despite litigation from those subjected to the monitoring, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The litigation stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2006 by 11 groups and individuals who wanted to see "information reflecting any investigation or surveillance of them by the government," the Ninth Circuit ruling said.
The FBI provided a handful of heavily redacted pages just more than a year later to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and to Hussam Ayloush, its Los Angeles office director. The 11 then sued, demanding to see more. After that, the FBI found more than 100 more pages of relevant material. But they were heavily redacted and considered as "outside the scope" of the FOIA request.
A federal judge reviewed all the documents in private, ruling that the FBI is allowed to withhold them under the law. FOIA statutes allow the FBI to withhold some information, including records about "ongoing criminal investigations; (2) informant identities; and (3) classified foreign intelligence or international terrorism information," the ruling noted.
The appellate court ordered the original federal to go back over the documents, "eliminate statements" considered sensitive and release the rest of the information.
The Ninth Circuit repeatedly criticized the FBI, however, for initially failing to provide the district judge with everything it had. During the litigation, an official admitted the FBI had discovered even more records responsive to the request, but he did not immediately inform the court.
"We do not necessarily endorse the government's conduct during the litigation, but we agree with the government that the Sealed Order contains information that should not become public," the Ninth Circuit ruling said.
The other plaintiffs are identified as the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, Islamic Center of Hawthorne, the West Coast Islamic Center, Human Assistance and Development International, Inc., Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Shakeel Syed, Mohammed Abdul Aleem, and Rafe Husain.
Read the ruling here.