A September 2013 report from the ACLU investigates the expansive civil liberties violations of the FBI in the wake of 9/11. The report found that the FBI’s powers for investigation have been greatly increased in the name of homeland security and protections against profiling and targeting of First Amendment activities have been eroded.
Since 9/11, “Congress and successive attorneys general loosened many of the legal and internal controls that a previous generation have placed on the FBI to protect American’s Constitutional rights” says the report. This has allowed the FBI to engage in broad data collection, such as that permitted by FISA Amendments Act. The law, passed by Congress in 2008, allows the government to get special court orders allowing electronic surveillance of wide swaths of people, so long as the “target” of the surveillance is a foreigner. The true scope of this program has only recently come to light due to the Edward Snowden leaks.
More from CSN on NSA surveillance and its impact on nonprofits here.
The FBI itself has also loosened its procedures in the name of national security. Amendments to the FBI’s rulebook for investigations, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), allow “Collecting and analyzing racial and ethnic community demographics,” and “specific and relevant” ethnic and racial behavior. This mapping of communities, based on color of their skin and their heritage, “raises concerns that, once these communities are identified and mapped, the FBI will target them for additional intelligence gathering or investigation...” Similar mapping undertaken by the NYPD against ethnic and religious minorities has sparked controversy.
Despite this massive shift towards data collection and away from adherence to civil liberties protections, the FBI has little to show for actually preventing terrorist attacks. In fact, the report argues that the influx for false positives and arbitrary information has actually impeded FBI investigators’ ability to “connect the dots” on real threats. The report cites examples, such as Maj. Nadal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Tamerland Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, as cases where the FBI failed to recognize real threats, despite previous investigations into the individuals.
The ACLU report concludes with recommendations for systemic changes inside the FBI and with applicable law. This includes re-writing the DIOG, reforming the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act to be more in line with Constitutional principles or free speech, freedom of religion and due process. “FBI abuse of power must be met with efforts of reform, just as much now as in the days of J. Edgar Hoover.”