The US government has issued guidelines that ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement officers, amid growing controversy over the role of race in policing after several cases where white officers killed unarmed black men.

The policy, which replaces decade-old guidelines established under the George Bush administration, prohibits profiling on the basis of religion, national origin and other characteristics.

US Attorney General Eric Holder, said the new guidelines were "a major and important step forward" in ensuring "strong and sound policing practices".

This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America

Laura Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

"With this new guidance, we take a major and important step forward to ensure effective policing by federal law enforcement officials and state and local law enforcement participating in federal task forces throughout the nation," Holder said.

The rules cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI. They also extend to local and state officers serving on task forces alongside federal agents.

Some activities of the Department of Homeland Security also are covered, such as civil immigration enforcement, but border and airport security screening are exempt along with other federal personnel such as the military, intelligence and diplomacy.

Racial profiling crisis

Five years in the making, the policy was not drafted in response to recent high-profile cases involving the deaths of black individuals at the hands of white police officers.

Civil rights advocates said they were disappointed that the guidelines would not be binding on local and state police agencies, questioning the policy's practical impact, since local police officers are primarily responsible for traffic stops, 911 emergency calls and day-to-day interactions with communities they patrol.

"This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America," Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, told the Associated Press news agency.

"It's so loosely drafted that its exceptions risk swallowing any rule and permit some of the worst law enforcement policies and practices that have victimised and alienated American Muslim and other minority communities."

Protests have flared across the US following a decison not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man in New York, and the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Source: Agencies