US likely to widen ban on profiling of criminal suspects

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Justice Department is likely to widen a ban on the profiling of suspects by race to include other categories such as religion, country of origin, gender and sexual orientation, a person familiar with an internal review said on Thursday.

Broadening the ban would mark a major policy shift for US law enforcement and would address a frequent complaint by minorities in America who feel they are singled out for unwarranted extra scrutiny.

The department's review of racial profiling continued and it was not certain when a final decision would be made, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Federal agents have been prohibited from profiling potential criminal suspects by race in almost all cases since 2003, but complaints persist of the unwarranted targeting of religious or other groups, including Muslims and Sikhs.

Eric Holder, the first black US attorney general, launched a review of Justice Department policy in late 2009, the same year he took office as an appointee of President Barack Obama, America's first black president.

"We've all seen heart-wrenching stories of misguided racial profiling," Holder said in a June 2010 speech to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

"But we must always remember that virtually all of our nation's law enforcement officers serve their communities honorably - and risk their personal safety - every day." He said at the time that the Justice Department would not"stand idly by" as some law enforcement departments engage in discriminatory policing.

The 2003 ban on racial profiling did not apply to national security cases - a loophole criticized by some rights activists.

There is also a contentious debate over whether profiling is helpful in enforcement investigations.

The pending policy changes were first reported by the New York Times.

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