Guidelines Released Amid Protest from Congress, Privacy Groups and American Public
Washington, DC – New FBI guidelines governing investigations were released today after being signed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly blasted the Department of Justice and FBI for ignoring calls for more stringent protections of Americans’ rights. The guidelines replace existing bureau guidelines for five types of investigations: general criminal, national security, foreign intelligence, civil disorders and demonstrations. The ACLU has been vocal in its disapproval of the overly broad guidelines, citing both the FBI’s and DOJ’s documented records of internal abuse.
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.
Last month, the ACLU formally requested the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General investigate current abuses of the attorney general guidelines. The investigation should particularly examine the manner in which the FBI uses race, religion, national origin or First Amendment protected activities in determining whether to initiate, expand or continue an investigation.
“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.”