ACLU Offers Congress and the Attorney General 15 Recommendations for FBI Reform
September 17, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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WASHINGTON - Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been granted by Congress and assumed for itself the power to investigate and collect data about millions of people.
A report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union provides a comprehensive accounting of the bureau's expanded post-9/11 investigative and intelligence collection authorities, their impact on civil liberties in the United States, and the FBI's evasion of oversight that enables abuses to continue. It also includes 15 recommendations for FBI reform.
"Rather than aiding its terrorism prevention efforts, the FBI's expanded investigative and intelligence powers have overwhelmed agents with a flood of irrelevant information and false alarms," said Michael German, senior policy counsel at the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "Instead of funding these ineffective and suspicionless intelligence collection programs, Congress should examine whether American communities could be made safer overall by spending that money to help state and local police solve violent crime."
Entitled, "Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI's Unchecked Abuse of Authority," the first half of the report documents how Congress, the attorney general, and the White House provided the FBI with new authorities in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in an effort to prevent another terrorist attack inside the United States. With the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, Congress provided the FBI with increasingly powerful tools that the bureau has used in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, according to the ACLU report.
Other powers the FBI simply assumed for itself by revising internal guidelines that govern the FBI's investigative and data collection authorities. These revisions have provided the FBI with increasingly broad powers, allowing its agents to investigate and collect information on Americans with no factual basis to suggest wrongdoing.
The second half of the report documents how these powers have led to widespread abuse, both domestically and internationally, without public accountability. Since 9/11, the ACLU has uncovered and documented persistent evidence of FBI abuse, including warrantless wiretapping, racial and religious profiling, biased counterterrorism training materials, politically motivated investigations, abusive detention and interrogation practices, and misuse of the No-Fly List to recruit informants.
"The list of abuses is long and demonstrates that Congress must do a top-to-bottom review of FBI policies and practices to identify and curtail any activities that are unconstitutional or easily misused," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project. "The time for wholesale reform has come."
The report further notes that excessive FBI secrecy regarding abuses, its internal suppression of whistleblowers, and often misleading testimony to Congress has effectively thwarted independent oversight of the bureau, allowing violations of the civil liberties and privacy rights of people inside of and outside of the United States to continue unabated.
Current FBI practices, the report argues, not only violate Americans and U.S. persons' constitutional rights but also waste resources on ineffective investigative methods that distract FBI agents from real threats. Since 9/11, the FBI's increased intelligence collection powers have led to a data explosion agents cannot keep up with, making it harder for agents to find suspicious individuals and organizations that warrant investigation.
"Respecting civil liberties and privacy rights doesn't harm the FBI's investigative capabilities," said German, "it actually makes agents more effective by ensuring they only use their considerable powers to investigate people and organizations where there's legitimate suspicion that they are doing something illegal."
The ACLU offers 15 recommendations to the attorney general and Congress to reform the FBI and ensure that the bureau only exercises powers in accordance with the rule of law while maintaining its core law enforcement duty to investigate and build cases against criminals and terrorists, both in the United States and overseas.
The report and other resources can be found at: aclu.org/unleashed-and-unaccountable