FBI Loosens Restrictions on Spying

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
(graphic: ACLU)
The FBI intends to give its agents more leeway when it comes to investigating suspects, including the ability to search databases, sift through household trash and conduct surveillance without adhering to certain rules that used to apply to such activity.
For instance, agents previously were required to open a record before initiating an “assessment” of a suspect without solid evidence of any wrongdoing. “Assessment” is a relatively new category of investigation, created in December 2008, which allows FBI agents to spy on Americans and others even if there is no evidence to suspect them of criminal or terrorist activities.
According to a new edition of the FBI’s “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide,” while pursuing assessments, agents will be able to search databases without officially recording their work.
Under the current rules, which were established in 2008, FBI agents cannot search through a suspect’s trash or administer a lie detector test until they have opened a “preliminary investigation,” a category that is a step up from an assessment, and which requires factual evidence of possible criminal or terrorist activity. According to Charlie Savage, writing in The New York Times, the new rules will allow the FBI to sort through trash or give polygraph tests for the purpose of turning a target into an informant.
Michael German, a former FBI agent turned American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, has warned that the policy changes are a bad idea. “Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse,” German told The Times, citing the controversy in 2007 when it was revealed the FBI had abused the use of “national security letters” to obtain phone records without a warrant.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)


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