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How one filmmaker is using artificial intelligence to uncover surveillance of her Muslim community in Chicago


Since she was a kid, Assia Boundaoui knew that she, her family and her neighbors were being watched. It was an open secret in her hometown of Bridgeview, a Chicago suburb home to a large Muslim and Arab population where for decades residents experienced government surveillance, including home visits by FBI agents. Using her training as a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Boudaoui sought out proof beginning in 2014 by interviewing community members and filing Freedom of Information requests for records on Operation Vulgar Betrayal, one of the largest pre-9/11 counterrorism probes conducted domestically in the United States and included the Bridgeview community. She also submitted hundreds of privacy waivers on behalf of people who were surveilled to the Department of Justice, requesting files on individuals who had experienced surveillance. When the FBI responded, ultimately saying it would take years to process 33,000 pages of records on the investigation, Boundaoui sued. In 2017, a federal judge ruled that she was entitled to expedited processing, ordering the FBI to release 3,500 pages from the Vulgar Betrayal file each month and to give priority to the sub files of individuals for whom privacy waivers were filed.