Revised Guidelines Lower FBI’s Surveillance Bar

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November 14, 2011

Revised guidelines that relax restrictions on the FBI's domestic intelligence collection activities were reported to go into effect on Oct. 15, 2011. Although unavailable to the public, several reports indicate the updated Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG II) significantly expands FBI powers, including the authority to use surveillance teams to investigate individuals and organizations without a search warrant, the opening of a formal investigation, or any evidence of prior wrongdoing. Reports of the revised guidelines come days after the American Civil Liberties Union released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing widespread abuse by FBI agents targeting people and groups for investigation based on their race or religion. 

The original DIOG required agents to open an inquiry before searching a law-enforcement database for information on a particular individual. Under the new rules, agents may conduct database searches without even opening an assessment, so no record of these searches will exist.  This opens the door to potential abuses of power, making it more difficult to discover if an agent has improperly used one or more of these searches for personal reasons.  In the wake of several troubling reports of FBI agents infiltrating advocacy organizations and mosques, including one from the Department of Justice, groups have filed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of FBI methods for collecting domestic intelligence.

Michael German, a former FBI agent now working at the ACLU said of the revised guidelines, “It is an extraordinarily broad grant of power to an agency that has not proven it uses its power in an appropriate manner.”