10.05.2008

fbi releases new guidelines: we are all suspects

On October 3, the FBI released new guidelines governing investigations. The guidelines replace current FBI guidelines for five types of investigations: general criminal, national security, foreign intelligence, civil disorders and demonstrations.

From the ACLU:
The new guidelines reduce standards for beginning "assessments' (precursors to investigations), conducting surveillance and gathering evidence, meaning the threshold to beginning investigations across the board will be lowered. More troubling still, the guidelines allow a person's race or ethnic background to be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes may institute racial profiling as a matter of policy.

"The attorney general today gave the FBI a blank check to open investigations of innocent Americans based on no meaningful suspicion of wrongdoing," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "The new guidelines provide no safeguards against the FBI's improperly using race and religion as grounds for suspicion. They also fail to sufficiently prevent the government from infiltrating groups whose viewpoints it doesn't like. The FBI has shown time and time again that is incapable of policing itself and there is good reason to believe that these guidelines will lead to more abuse."

The FBI originally adopted internal guidelines in the mid-1970s after investigations showed widespread abuses and violations of constitutional rights by the agency, including the politically-motivated spying on figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. Ironically, these newly revised guidelines could open the bureau up to exactly that kind of abuse once more. Though the DOJ and FBI Director Robert Mueller have consistently claimed that the new guidelines would not give agents new authority, the previous guidelines governed very different types of investigations, and tearing down the walls between them will invariably mean that new powers will be applied where they were not before.

. . . "Attorney General Mukasey has decided to implement these disastrous guidelines against the protests of members of Congress, privacy groups and the American public," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "It is naïve to think these guidelines will not result in abuse. Though the DOJ and FBI claim they are doing what they must to meet the law enforcement needs of the future, they are only doomed to repeat the abuses of the past. Since, under these guidelines, a generalized 'threat' is enough to begin an investigation, the FBI will be given carte blanche to begin surveillance without factual evidence. The standard of suspicion is so low and the predicate for investigations so flimsy that it's inevitable we will all become suspects."

4 comments:

skdadl said...

This is very worrisome. I've been following it all summer, and of course Mukasey's motives are highly suspect.

I'm hoping that a new administration will be open to the investigations of a new Congress, and will insist on reimposing the best controls. The FBI have sometimes distinguished themselves by their training in criminal investigation. They sent up the first warnings from GTMO, eg, all the intelligent questions and warnings that CSIS and DFAIT, eg, didn't. This is absolutely the wrong way to move the FBI, and I hope that someone checks it soon.

Kim_in_TO said...

This is scary, but honestly, a lot of us believe this is already happening with the RCMP and CSIS here.

L-girl said...

Kim, I'm sure it's happening in both countries as a de facto system. But this codifies it into legal guidelines. I do think that's different, and worse.

David Heap said...

Race and ethnic background as "grounds" for investigation (and much worse!) would seem to already be common practice for example under Canada's so-called "security certificate" legislation, where cases are concocted which end up with indefinite incarceration without trial-- basically because the people in question are Muslim Arabs. The specific criteria aren't there (at least, not in public documents) but the glimpses we get make it pretty clear what the underlying prejudices are.