Rights group sues FBI to reveal its surveillance rules

(RAW STORY)   A digital privacy watchdog group has filed suit against the Department of Justice in an attempt to make public new FBI surveillance rules that allow the bureau to spy on Americans even without any suspicion of terrorist activities.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been tracking the FBI’s new surveillance rules, in effect since late last year, which broadly expand the bureau’s ability to use surveillance methods previously limited only to terrorism investigations.

Now, the group has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, asking the government to “detail the Bureau’s procedures and standards for implementing the Attorney General’s Guidelines on approved surveillance strategies.”

In the waning months of the Bush administration, the Justice Department “released new guidelines … that empower FBI agents to use intrusive techniques to gather intelligence within the United States, alarming civil liberties groups and Democratic lawmakers who worry that they invite privacy violations and other abuses,” theWashington Post reported last year.

“The new road map allows investigators to recruit informants, employ physical surveillance and conduct interviews in which agents disguise their identities in an effort to assess national security threats,” the article continued. “FBI agents could pursue each of those steps without any single fact indicating a person has ties to a terrorist organization.”

“The Attorney General’s Guidelines are troubling, allowing for open investigative ‘assessments’ of any American without factual basis or reasonable suspicion,” EFF lawyer David Sobel said in a statement. “The withholding of the Operational Guidelines compounds our concerns. Americans have the right to know the basic surveillance policies used by federal investigators and how their privacy is — or is not — being protected.”

The EFF says it filed the lawsuit after the Justice Department failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request.

“These policies have been in effect for more than six months and could have great impact on ordinary Americans’ lives,” said Sobel. “The FBI must follow the law and release these guidelines to the public.”

The FBI has a long and storied history of spying on activist organizations, civil rights groups and other “subversives” going back to the era of J. Edgar Hoover. During the Bush administration, watchdog groups and activists alleged the FBI was using its expanded powers under the USA Patriot Act to spy on and infiltrate peaceful political and social movements.


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