(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Five California men are suing the Obama administration, claiming that they were placed on counter terror watch lists and targeted for seemingly innocuous activities.
86-year-old James Prigoff, an art photographer and author, says he and a neighbor were visited by federal agents months after he tried to photograph a local landmark in Boston that displayed a rainbow painting on the side of a natural gas tank.
Prigoff, a former executive at the Levi Strauss clothing company, was shooting from public land but security guards for the facility reported him to the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Initiative, a joint database managed by local and federal law enforcement.
His information, along with those of the four other men, could be stored for up to 30 years.
Other plaintiffs include a man of South Asian descent who garnered police attention while waiting for his mother outside a train station bathroom, a convert to Islam reading a review of a flight simulator game when police knocked on his door during a routine neighborhood search, a man who made a bulk computer purchase at Best Buy, and another photographer shooting in public.
The lawsuit follows claims that federal officials spied on prominent Muslim-Americans. In response, the Department of Justice and Director of National Intelligence says such reports are false.
“Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion,” officials said in a statement.
“Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose. With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Hailey Middlebrook, Special to CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Laura Koran, CNN
Kareem Khadder, CNN