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NYPD broke faith with Muslims

It would be laughable if it weren't a bit alarming.

New York City police spent months trawling the Internet to see what Muslim students at the University at Buffalo were doing in 2006.

The Associated Press revealed last week that UB's Muslim Students Association was among the student groups at more than a dozen colleges to have its website monitored daily by the New York Police Department.

This is what passed for policing?

A secret report obtained by the AP shows that one UB student was flagged after she posted a link to information about an Islamic convention in Toronto.

What's alarming is not that the police were scouring the web. If you post it online, expect the world -- and that means detectives, potential employers and exes alike -- could read it.

What's chilling is that the single common factor these students appeared to share was that they were Muslims who joined college clubs focused on their faith.

The police were watching them because of whom they worshipped.

It's a point New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied last week as he defended the department's monitoring of student groups and mosques outside New York City.

"We don't target individuals based on race and religion," Bloomberg said during a radio interview.

How else do you explain a weekly report that detailed online activity of 15 Muslim student groups from various Northeast colleges that were watched daily by the department's "cyber intelligence unit"?

Bloomberg described it as efforts "just to kind of get familiar with what's going on."

But take a look at the department's November 2006 secret memo detailing the UB student's reference to an Islamic conference in Toronto, and you hardly get the sense the officer was familiar at all with what was going on.

The report makes reference to a link the student posted to the fifth annual "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" convention in Toronto and details the background of two of its speakers. It was information you could dig up on Wikipedia.

What it didn't say was that the conference draws thousands of young people to Toronto each year for speakers, music and prayer.

There's another leaked memo detailing the same annual Islamic conference, and it paints quite a different picture. This one is a 2005 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Consulate in Toronto buried among thousands of pages of WikiLeaks documents.

It notes that as many as 15,000 people were expected to attend, including the prime minister of Canada, and that the consulate's senior staff planned to go.

The cable concluded by asking that U.S. Customs and Border Protection be notified so that Americans wouldn't get held up at the Canadian border as they had the year before.

On one hand, you've got U.S. diplomats trying to smooth travel for Americans who attend. On the other, you've got a New York City officer secretly reporting on a student who publicizes the conference.

It's not just worrisome that the NYPD zeroed in on Muslim students in Buffalo.

It also seems a waste of time.