WASHINGTON – New racial profiling guidelines being announced by the Obama administration would restrict the ability of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to take into account religion, national origin and other characteristics during investigations. But they would exempt agents from the Department of Homeland Security who do border checks and screen passengers at airports, according to a U.S. official familiar with the plans.
The official said Friday night that the new guidelines banning profiling exempt the Transportation Security Administration and also do not cover inspections at ports of entry and interdictions at border crossings. The official was not authorized to discuss the guidelines by name and spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement expected within coming days.
The new guidelines, long in the works, apply to federal law enforcement agents but aren't binding on local police officers who are more likely to have day-to-day contact with community members. But they're nonetheless a significant priority for outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, and will be unveiled during a period of national debate about racial bias in law enforcement and community relations with police.
"This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing," Holder told an audience in Atlanta on Monday night.
Federal law enforcement agents are banned from routine racial profiling under a 2003 Bush administration policy that created a significant exemption for national security investigations. But this policy goes beyond the decade-old one, expanding the definition of racial profiling to ban the practice on the basis of religion, gender, national origin and sexual orientation.
But it will not end the FBI's ability to collect racial and ethnic information about neighborhoods, a practice known as "mapping" that has long disquieted civil liberties advocates, said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who is familiar with the policy.
"In essence, the guidance is a major improvement, but it's not sufficient," she said.
The formulation of the guidelines long predates high-profile cases that have placed a national spotlight on police treatment of minorities. Those include the August shooting by a police officer of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death in New York City of a man who was placed in what appeared to be a chokehold by an officer. Though Holder previewed the guidelines earlier this week at an Atlanta community forum on police relations, it's not clear the guidelines will have much bearing on routine police practices by local law enforcement agencies.
"Based on what we know about the changes that are coming out, I'm not sure how it ties into the Eric Garner/Ferguson issue," said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center. "In both of those cases, you had local law enforcement that was involved in the incidents, and the guidelines don't regulate state and local police.
The outline of the guidelines was first reported by The Washington Post on Friday night.
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