Friday, August 22, 2008

New Guidelines Would Give F.B.I. Broader Powers

Is it me or does it seem like as we near the end of this 8 year nightmare the effort being made by the White House to cement and expand their power, weaken the constitution, and install a kind of police state is operating on overdrive?

I try here to stick as best I can to consumer related privacy issues - in particular those that meet at the intersection of civil liberties and technology - but it's getting more and more difficult to discuss much else than the latest government attempts to imprison, monitor, record, and wiretap American citizens.

Just some of these so called "counterterrorism" programs the administration has been looking to formalize and expand was the recent executive order ratifying new roles for intelligence agencies, the authorization of greater sharing of intelligence information with the local police, and expansion of record keeping of American citizens that cross the border.

And here's the latest mind bender to report. This time it's the FBI (hard to tell all these agencies apart when it comes to the issue of privacy these days) that's looking to broaden their power to assault yours and mine...with a little help from none other than our "Justice" Department. Sigh...

The New York Times reports:

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion...The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.


The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” the letter said. It was signed by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.


In 2002, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, allowed F.B.I. agents to visit public sites like mosques or monitor Web sites in the course of national security investigations. The next year, Mr. Bush issued guidelines allowing officials to use ethnicity or race in “narrow” circumstances to detect a terrorist threat.

The Democratic senators said the draft plan appeared to allow the F.B.I. to go even further in collecting information on Americans connected to “foreign intelligence” without any factual predicate. They also said there appeared to be few constraints on how the information would be shared with other agencies.

Michael German, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union and a former F.B.I. agent, said the plan appeared to open the door still further to the use of data-mining profiles in tracking terrorism. “This seems to be based on the idea that the government can take a bunch of data and create a profile that can be used to identify future bad guys,” he said. “But that has not been demonstrated to be true anywhere else.”

And there we are. Right back to my post from yesterday, in which I said (and I apologize for repeating myself but it applies again here):

Every time I hear about the latest program designed to whittle away at our right to privacy and the liberty that it affords us - and how its somehow "necessary to save us from terrorists and illegal immigrants" - I wonder if I'm the only one who remembers that our government had ALL THE INFORMATION NECESSARY to prevent 9/11...but they just happened to fail miserably in doing so? No amount of wiretapping, monitoring, surveillance, or recording and storing of our personal data would have changed what happened on that fateful day...the only change such actions bring us is a country that is no longer free...which kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it?

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