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FBI Guidelines Renew Fears of Spying

Newly released guidelines from the Justice Department are calling renewed attention to the fact that the FBI is allowed to initiate “assessments” of individuals or groups without any factual basis for believing they’ve done anything wrong.

Back in April, I reported on the Attorney General Guidelines issued by the Bush administration just as it was leaving office, in December. They gave the FBI unprecedented powers to investigate people without any reason to believe they’re engaged in wrongdoing. Then last Friday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Justice Department released a heavily redacted version of its

“It sets an extremely confusing and dangerous precedent to create an ambiguous set of guidelines for invasive surveillance of Americans and then grant the FBI the authority to violate those guidelines unilaterally,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in a statement released Tuesday. “We remain concerned that the Mukasey Guidelines were written so broadly that they imposed essentially no restrictions at all on FBI investigations, and now we see the FBI has interpreted them in exactly the same way. Congress needs to create a statutory framework that limits the FBI’s authority to conduct investigations without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing as soon as possible.”

The guidelines are raising particular concerns among Muslim civil rights groups who fear they allow FBI agents to sent informants into mosques to spy on their members. “The concern many feel is over attending mosque services for the fear the FBI might be looking over their shoulder.” Farhanda Khera of Muslim Advocates, which also sued to obtain the guidelines, told Josh Gerstein at Politico.

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