June 27, 2011
Less than three years after the last major revision of its domestic surveillance guidelines, the FBI is preparing to loosen its restrictions on monitoring Americans. If this is not halted, we might find our privacy eroded beyond repair.
Agents are already free to search the public Internet and the federal government’s vast and growing databases for information on groups or individuals — even if they aren’t suspected of wrongdoing — without approval from a supervisor. Under rules implemented in 2008, they can go still further, digging up information in broader commercial databases, or consulting state and local law enforcement records, provided they open an “assessment.” That isn’t the same as an “investigation,” which requires grounds for suspicion of criminal activity, but opening an assessment means that agents must at least create a paper trail and identify a legitimate purpose for their inquiries.