New FBI guidelines are a threat to democracy
You may as well leave your front door open and leave a note asking the FBI agents to at least wipe their shoes before they barge in uninvited.
Starting Dec. 1, new guidelines will give FBI agents unprecedented power of privacy invasion – and without good cause.
American citizens and residents could find themselves facing FBI assessments designed to lead to criminal investigations without a factual predicate – that is to say, without evidence that the individual being investigated has committed or has planned to commit a crime.
Last month, Justice Department officials released the new guidelines that allow FBI agents to use invasive techniques to gather intelligence within the United States – without any indication that the individual being monitored has links to a terrorist organization.
The new guidelines are intrusive and a violation of civil liberties, as well as an insult to the ordinary sensibilities of individuals.
To investigate individuals without cause or reason makes it possible for the United States government to become one of the very types of undemocratic governmental systems we vehemently oppose.
Congressional Democrats have called on the Bush administration to keep from implementing the new rules until the new administration takes office next year.
"It is not appropriate for the current administration to make such sweeping changes to FBI procedures at this late date," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
The new guidelines redefine a type of FBI activity called assessment, which was established in 2003 to identify potential threats to national security.
Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said the guidelines give the FBI "broad new powers to conduct surveillance and use other intrusive investigative techniques on Americans without requiring any indication of wrongdoing or any approval even from FBI supervisors."
Not only that, but the rules are continuing the Bush administration’s pattern of expanding authority to collect American’s private information without protecting their privacy or putting into place a system to prevent abuse.
The rules pose a grave danger to our democracy by allowing FBI agents to launch an assessment against anyone, as long as it is done for what the guidelines call an "authorized purpose." There need not be any connection between the individual targeted and the "authorized purpose."
"Not since J. Edgar Hoover ran the place has the FBI claimed the right to investigate American citizens without a factual predicate," said ACLU Legislative Counsel Michael German.
The former FBI agent said it was "stunning" that the guidelines allowed for assessments without the approval of FBI agents, especially since the bureau has a history of mishandling other authorities it had been granted, including the National Security Letters.
A National Security Letter is a subpoena used by the FBI and other government agencies issued to an organization demanding it hand over records and data pertaining to individuals without probable cause or judicial oversight.
The NSL also contained a gag order, preventing the recipient from revealing that the letter was ever issued; the gag order was later ruled unconstitutional and an infringement of free speech in the Doe v. Ashcroft case.
In a joint statement, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the new guidelines "provide more uniform, clearer and simpler rules" that will help "the FBI to become, among other things, a more flexible and adept collector of intelligence."
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, said: "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. … These guidelines will lead to political witch hunts and more unwarranted investigations of political enemies and peace groups."
Even more cause for alarm is that the verbiage of the guidelines still raises concerns about the potential for religion and race to be used as factors in deciding whom the FBI will investigate – which is especially distressing for Muslims and Arabs.
"It would have been very simple to include … a clear ban" on the use of race or religion, German said, adding that the guidelines, instead, refer to earlier rules on racial profiling, which have been criticized for ambiguity and possible misuse. "This convoluted language … leaves the impression that (the rules) are designed to create a loophole."
If implemented, the new FBI guidelines will be a step toward creating a tyrannical government at a time when we are waging wars, shedding blood and losing lives while claiming to free others of tyranny so they may enjoy the democratic rights and liberties we claim to uphold but are, in fact, slowly relinquishing.
When all of our efforts are supposedly aimed at providing others with democracy while our own democratic system is deteriorating, who will protect our democratic values when we find them gone?