New York City has reached a tentative settlement in longstanding litigation over NYPD spying on Muslim New Yorkers, months after a judge ruled that a proposed settlement lacked safeguards necessary to ensure police compliance with rules governing surveillance of political groups.

The proposed settlement would resolve two parallel lawsuits against the NYPD related to illegal spying. The first suit, a class action that was originally filed in 1971, has been at the heart of civil libertarians' battle over police surveillance for generations. A 1985 settlement of that suit resulted in the creation of what are known as the Handschu Guidelines (named after the lead plaintiff in the suit, Barbara Handschu), which instituted rules barring indiscriminate surveillance of political groups, set strict reporting requirements and oversight for the use of undercover agents and confidential informants, and created a review panel with a civilian monitor to ensure departmental compliance.

Over the ensuing decades, the federal district judge overseeing the settlement made several adjustments to the Handschu guidelines. After 9/11, he significantly weakened several oversight provisions, including curtailing the powers of the review panel.

The second suit, Raza v. City of New York, which dates back to 2013, was brought by a group of Muslim New Yorkers and civil libertarians over surveillance operations conducted by the NYPD against Muslims in the city. It came in the wake of a series of investigative stories by the AP revealing the NYPD had for years engaged in blanket surveillance of political groups. Gothamist chronicled on such undercover operation, in which an NYPD undercover agent infiltrated a Muslim student group at Brooklyn College.

In January 2016, lawyers in the two suits reached a settlement with the city that would have resolved litigation over NYPD spying. That settlement set out stricter rules for NYPD surveillance operations, including requirements that the department offer evidence of potential wrongdoing before commencing an investigation, prohibitions on conducting blanket surveillance on any political or religious group, and the creation of a committee of senior NYPD officials and a mayoral-appointed civilian monitor to provide oversight on surveillance operations. Under the terms of the settlement, the monitor would have made periodic reports to the mayor, police commissioner, or the court.

But the presiding judge in the Handschu case, Charles Haight, ruled that the settlement agreement was insufficient to ensure NYPD compliance. In particular, he pointed to an August 2016 report from the Department of Investigation that found pervasive violations of the Handschu guidelines.

"Those failures suggest a systemic inclination on the part of the Intelligence Bureau to disregard the Guidelines' mandates," he wrote at the time.

In response to Haight's concerns, the amended settlement would require the civilian monitor to report potential violations of Handschu to the court; it would also require confidential annual reports on the state of the NYPD's surveillance operations. These reports would be filed under seal and made available to the city's corporation counsel and class counsel. Haight had recommended that the monitor report quarterly, but the lawyers on the case stated they believed such frequent reporting to be too onerous.

The settlement would also require the mayor to seek court approval to abolish the position of the civilian monitor—and the court would only be empowered to do so if the NYPD is found to have not engaged in systematic violations in the preceding three years. (In the original settlement, the mayor would have been able to unilaterally terminate the position after five years.)

"We appreciate Judge Haight's suggestions for enhancing the settlement," stated NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg in a press release issued by the NYCLU. "We believe the terms we have now arrived at make it even more protective of religious and political freedoms."

Judge Haight will review the amended settlement. If he signs off on it, it will take effect and the suits will be dismissed. The city and the NYPD did not immediately respond to Gothamist's request for comment.

"This settlement represents important progress, not only for Muslim New Yorkers but for other minorities in New York and beyond," stated Imam Hamid Hassan Raza, the lead plaintiff in the Raza suit, in the NYCLU release. "The new additions to the agreement cement the gains that we achieved before, securing our freedom to practice our religion without being afraid of who's watching."