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US Unveils New Profiling Limits in Criminal Investigations

Police follow protesters during a march following Monday's grand jury decision in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 25, 2014.

The United States has unveiled new steps to curb profiling by federal law enforcement officials.

The new guidelines issued Monday expand the current ban on the use of race and ethnicity in pinpointing suspects to also prohibit profiling by national origin, gender, gender identity, religion and sexual orientation.

The practical effect of the new restrictions was not immediately clear, however, since they only apply to U.S. government law enforcement agencies, not the more than 12,000 local and state police departments in the U.S. that have the most contact with people in every-day situations. In addition, security screening at airports and border checkpoints are exempted from the profiling guidelines.

The restrictions on federal law enforcement were developed over five years, not in response to ongoing controversies in the U.S. over grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers who have killed unarmed black males.

But the country's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, said that with growing concerns about the fairness of the criminal justice process in way minorities are treated, "it's imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices."