ACLU Reaffirms Opposition To Unconstitutional FBI Guidelines

September 17, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC – Following testimony before both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees this week, FBI Director Robert Mueller failed to dispel unease regarding new internal FBI guidelines governing investigations. Yesterday and today, members of both committees sought reassurances that the guidelines – which give overly broad authorities to agents – would not be abused by the bureau. Director Mueller said the guidelines would not be rewritten to include more safeguards but that protections would instead be written into overarching FBI policies.

Under the revised guidelines, FBI agents no longer need “factual predication” to use paid informers, spy on a person’s activities or engage in other types of intrusive surveillance; all that will be necessary is a hypothetical “threat.” The American Civil Liberties Union remains gravely concerned that this controversial change opens the door to racial profiling as someone’s race, religion or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation.

“After two days of testimony, Director Mueller did little else than confirm that the new guidelines would allow the FBI to grant itself broader authority to investigate innocent Americans. He told the senate that the Department of Justice sought the ACLU’s opinion on these guidelines. And we expressed our opinion then, as we do today, that the guidelines will allow racial profiling to creep into law enforcement, and will allow law enforcement agents to creep into lawful protests. We are convinced that in practice, the guidelines will be subject to misuse and abuse,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “It should also be noted that it is a fairly hollow gesture to seek the approval of Congress and privacy groups after agents have been trained and an implementation date has been set.”

In his testimony, Director Mueller consistently claimed that the new guidelines would not give agents substantial new authority and that they simply aim to tear down walls between investigations. However, since the previous guidelines governed three very different types of investigations, tearing down those walls will invariably mean that new powers will be applied where they were not before and the threshold to beginning investigations across the board will be lowered.

The FBI adopted the original guidelines in the mid-1970’s 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.

“The current guidelines were implemented to clean up the FBI’s abuses But if the new guidelines are put into place, those efforts towards internal diligence will most certainly be forgotten. It seems the irony is lost on the FBI,” added Romero.

To read a coalition letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee rejecting the guidelines, go to:

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