Scott Calls for Reinstatement of Critical Safeguards on FBI Spying

May 21, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

ACLU Lauds Introduction of Resolution Calling for the Repeal of Ashcroft’s Surveillance Guidelines

Contact: 202-675-2312 or

Washington, DC — The ACLU commends Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) for introducing H. Res. 1211, a resolution calling on Congress to reinstate the pre-Ashcroft guidelines, which provide stronger protections from unwarranted, domestic FBI spying for ordinary Americans. On May 30, 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft adopted his own guidelines in order to loosen the internal policies that guide federal investigations. These guidelines have enabled have enabled the Department of Justice and the FBI to track Americans’ dissent against the Bush administration and the government without showing cause or evidence of any criminal activity.

The guidelines in place prior to May 2002 had worked for more than a quarter century to protect civil liberties while permitting surveillance. In fact, the post-9/11 Ashcroft guidelines negated legal protections created by Attorney General Edward Levi in the Ford administration without having much impact on terrorism at all.

“It has been six long, chilly years living with the Ashcroft guidelines,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Ashcroft Guidelines expanded the FBI’s scope to allow surveillance of Americans without just cause. It’s time for FBI to have to reasonable suspicion of a federal crime before it spies on Americans.”

The Levi guidelines were adopted after the Church Committee found that the FBI had developed over 500,000 domestic intelligence files on Americans and domestic groups and had clearly targeted investigations to disrupt the efforts of dissenters. This famed committee detailed the disturbing extent to which the FBI had spied on Americans like Martin Luther King, former Navy officer Father Roy Bourgeois, Holocaust survivor Edith Bell, and other peaceful protestors and advocates across the political spectrum.

“While previous guidelines ensured there was cause for and supervision of FBI investigations, the Ashcroft guidelines enabled the FBI to investigate and undercut free speech it didn’t appreciate, whether or not there was evidence of criminal activity, said Rep. Scott. “Under the Ashcroft guidelines, we have even seen college students endure taxpayer funded FBI interrogations and investigations for simply placing irreverent posters up in their college communities.” In one case, the FBI resorted to grilling a North Carolina college student about “un-American materials” in her apartment, such as a poster of George W. Bush holding a noose. It read, ‘We hang on your every word.’ While some may argue this is not in good taste, it is far from a potential act of terrorism.”

“The Ashcroft guidelines have not only made the FBI less effective in preventing terrorism, they have chilled Americans’ freedom to associate and speak without the fear that their associations and speech will end up in an FBI database,” said ACLU Senior Lobbyist Terri Schroeder. “Rep. Scott’s resolution merely calls for a rational basis for any investigation. Constitutionally protected advocacy of unpopular ideas or political dissent alone should not serve as the basis for an investigation. Government investigations should never be employed to disrupt dissent,” she said.

The ACLU supports replacing the Ashcroft guidelines with the Levi guidelines in order:

* To end domestic spying like that documented by the Church Committee report when there was no evidence of criminal activity

* To ensure the FBI could investigate anyone as long as there was a rational basis for doing so.

Rep. Scott’s House Resolution 1211 expressed: “the sense of the House of Representatives that the Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise Investigation as modified on May 30, 2002 (“Ashcroft Guidelines”) should be rescinded and replaced by the former Guidelines to protect Americans from domestic FBI spying in the absence of suspected criminal activity.”

For more on the Ashcroft and Levi guidelines as well as the history of domestic spying go to:


Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release