ACLU Marks Fifth Anniversary of Ashcroft Surveillance Guidelines; Report Calls for Guidelines to be Changed to Prevent FBI Abuse

May 29, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today marked the fifth anniversary of the FBI’s 2002 revised Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise Investigation with a new report, “History Repeated: The Dangers of Domestic Spying by Federal Law Enforcement.”

The report details the negative impact of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s 2002 revised guidelines, which removed many civil liberties protections and granted FBI agents broad powers to spy on ordinary Americans. Ashcroft’s actions opened the door for the FBI to abuse its considerable investigatory power to spy upon American citizens, particularly those who disagree with the current administration.

Representative Robert Scott (D-VA) joined the ACLU in supporting a change to the Ashcroft guidelines. Said Representative Scott, “The FBI guidelines issued by Attorney General Edward Levi in 1976 worked well for over a quarter of a century. Under the Levi Guidelines, the FBI can investigate anything it wants, so long as there is a rational basis for the investigation.”

The ACLU’s report urges Congress to work to permanently end the abuses of surveillance power currently occurring under the Ashcroft Guidelines. American citizens of all political stripes must be guaranteed their constitutionally protected right to protest government policy without becoming targets of government scrutiny.

“Five long years under the Ashcroft guidelines have shown that the FBI has not learned from history, including its own,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Spying on protesters and peace activists was an ineffective tactic when it was used in the 1960s, and it’s ineffective now. Instead of targeting innocent Americans, the FBI should be gathering intelligence on the people who truly mean us harm.”

The report conducts a brief review of past FBI spying, sharing what the ACLU has learned from repeated and often-litigated FOIA requests. The report concludes by recommending changes to ensure that innocent Americans do not find themselves in a government database simply for exercising their constitutional rights.

“At the end of the day, five years of these misguided guidelines have left us less safe, and less free,” said Marvin Johnson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Gathering intelligence on grannies, Quakers, and peaceful protesters does little to strengthen national security. Any time the government starts monitoring innocent Americans for exercising their constitutional rights, it chills the very freedoms the FBI has sworn to protect.”

The ACLU report, “History Repeated: The Dangers of Domestic Spying by Federal Law Enforcement,” is available at:

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