Looks like the FBI will be once again lowering its already rock bottom standards for surveillance soon. According to a report in the New York Times — quoting our own Michael German (a former FBI agent) — the bureau is revising its surveillance guidelines yet again, updating the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which governs the activities of FBI agents.
The current guidelines, updated in late 2008 just as the Bush administration was leaving office, have a very low standard for the FBI to begin an “assessment” (a precursor to an investigation), conduct surveillance or gather evidence. That means there is a dangerously low threshold for beginning an investigation or conducting surveillance about individuals or groups who are not suspected of any criminal activity. The guidelines in place now also allow the FBI to collect, analyze and map racial and ethnic data about local communities, which also opens up a whole other can of worms — namely, the possibility that the FBI is engaging in unconstitutional racial profiling.
According to the Times:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.
The FBI claims that this update to the guidelines is a mere tweak. Somehow that sounds like an incredible understatement. I guess we could ask what the agents on trash duty think…
We’ll be keeping tabs on these guidelines as they become public. Watch this space for updates.