Image of a phone screen in an article about the app Muslim Pro
The Muslim Pro controversy has further shown that in this post 9/11 world, the American Muslim community has to walk on eggshells. (Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash)

Surveillance on Apps Like Muslim Pro Shows the Reality of Islamophobia

Popular prayer and social apps aimed at the Muslim community have been indirectly selling user location data to the U.S. military.

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Image of a phone screen in an article about the app Muslim Pro

Popular prayer and social apps aimed at the Muslim community have been indirectly selling user location data to the U.S. military.

Self-proclaimed “most popular Muslim app” Muslim Pro and social community app Muslim Mingle have been exposed by Vice Motherboard for sharing user information to a location data company, X-Mode, which sold this information to defense contractors with close relations to the United States military. Although the prayer app, Muslim Pro, has cut ties with X-Mode, many Muslims are still appalled at the prayer app’s lack of sensitivity with their personal data.

Muslim Pro, with almost 100 million downloads, tells its users when it is time for prayer and what direction Mecca is in relation to their personal locations. Muslim Mingle, a social dating app for connecting young Muslims in the same area, also requires location data.

Aliya Karim explained that, in the aftermath of this investigation, “The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding that the U.S. government turn over all records related to private location data acquired from cell phone apps.”

The ACLU has maintained that this sale of information disproportionately discriminates against Muslims and violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, they have cited the 2018 Supreme Court ruling Carpenter v. United States, which bars warrantless searches and seizures of cell phone records that include user location data.

America’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has also responded quite vehemently to this privacy issue and has petitioned for a congressional inquiry. While the investigation has not yet stated whether the app’s data has been used to directly target Muslims, Nihad Awad, CAIR’s chief executive, has stated, “We call on Congress to begin a public inquiry into the government’s use of personal data to target the Muslim community here and abroad, including whether these data were used to illegally spy on or target Muslim Americans.”

However, this breach of private data and betrayal is not new for the Muslim community.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack, members of Congress quickly passed legislation that would grant new and strengthen previous powers of domestic and international intelligence agencies. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, infamously known as the USA PATRIOT Act, wreaked havoc on the American Muslim community, particularly Black Muslims and those of South Asian and Arab descent. By expanding law enforcement’s surveillance abilities, Congress enabled the racial profiling, targeting and violation of the rights of millions of Muslims residing in the U.S.

According to a factsheet by the ACLU, the congressional act specifically aided in the creation of the NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program, in which the NYPD Intelligence Division propagated religious profiling and surveillance of Muslim community leaders, student associations, businesses and individuals.

Any evidence that this surveillance program was not targeting Muslims was disproven by a 2007 NYPD Intelligence Division report, which explicitly stated that an indicator for radicalization for terrorism was “traditional Islamic clothing,” “abstaining from alcohol” and “growing a beard,” which are all promoted by the Quran and other Hadiths in Islam.

The NYPD mapped Muslim communities, took photos and videos of individuals leaving and entering Mosques, recruited “mosque crawlers” that would infiltrate mosques to incite conversations about “jihad” and created daily reports on the lives of millions of Muslims residing in the tri-state area.

Democrats and Republicans alike have enabled this racial profiling. The Countering Violent Extremism Program (CVE) was heavily used under President Obama’s administration; it was rebranded as the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program under President Trump’s administration.

In this environment of fear and mistrust, Muslims have confronted the betrayal by Muslim Pro and Muslim Mingle with dejection and exasperation.

Founder of the Black Muslim Coalition, the MWFN National and the Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Dr. Kameelah Rashad explicitly stated her immense disapproval with Muslim Pro’s lack of consideration for personal user data.

Civil rights attorney and the executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter, Zahra Billoo, proclaimed, “This feels like a betrayal from within our own community…People feel that they should have been able to trust a company that markets and serves specifically the Muslim community — a community that has been under incredible attack domestically and abroad — to keep that data private, to be incredibly diligent about who they were selling it to, if they would sell it at all.”

One Twitter user, @dialectichiphop, lamented how this has just been another example of how capitalism can commodify anything, even spirituality.

Many more Muslim leaders have cautioned younger Muslims to be more careful of their actions on the internet, knowing that Muslims are so heavily watched by the government. Black Muslims, especially those who advocate for Black Lives Matter and have openly expressed their disdain for the U.S government and capitalism, have been warned that their internet posts and tweets can be used against them.

With the disclosure of this condemning information, it is not surprising that so many Muslims have felt so unsettled. In 2014, a study published in the Journal of Muslim Health concluded that those who experienced being monitored reported being more likely to modify their behaviors and avoid situations where they might once again have to deal with government suspicion and future surveillance.

The post 9/11 world has forced Muslims across the U.S. to essentially give up parts of their religion to assimilate into the “melting pot” of America. Women have taken off their hijabs, and men have shaved off their beards and stopped wearing Islamic garb to look less visibly Muslim.

Now, with this tearful reminder of the precarious position of Muslims in America, how many of those Muslims have felt themselves drift from visibly practicing their religion, in fear of being subject to suspicion and monitoring from the U.S. government?

It is now our job to support our Muslim coworkers, friends and neighbors, and petition the government to refrain from taking civil liberties from vulnerable groups in order to breed a false sense of national security.

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