Intent on not overlooking clues about terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” It also built a national database of “suspicious activity” reports. Last week, reports the New York Times, five California men filed a lawsuit contending it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.
The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet. Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard's or a police officer's report to be uploaded into the database. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with the law firm Bingham McCutchen.