The American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups sued the FBI in federal court in San Francisco today in a bid for information on the possible investigation and surveillance of Bay Area Muslim communities.
The lawsuit was filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. It seeks a court order requiring immediate processing of the groups' request for FBI records.
The ACLU was joined in the suit by the Asian Law Caucus, a San Francisco-based civil rights group, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a weekly newspaper.
The three groups are seeking records on matters such as any investigations of mosques and Islamic centers in the Bay Area since 2005, the training of agents and the possible recruitment of Muslim school children into the FBI's Junior Agent program.
The three groups filed an administrative Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI five months ago, but the lawsuit says they haven't received any information since then.
The groups say the information is of great public interest because of the possible impact of surveillance on free speech and freedom of religion and the potential harm to community relationships that are important to national security.
ACLU attorney Julia Mass said, "Clear information about the FBI's activities is necessary in order to understand the scope of their surveillance tactics to assess whether they have had a chilling effect on the right to worship freely or to exercise other forms of expression."
FBI spokesman Bill Carter, at the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the agency has a policy of not commenting on pending lawsuits.
But Carter said that in general, the FBI receives several thousand Freedom of Information Act requests each year.
Carter said, "We comply with the law, which requires the review of records in the file system.
"We process the files as quickly as possible but it depends on the size of the files," Carter said.