Government Will Ease Limits on Domestic Spying by F.B.I.
May 30, 2002 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Government Will Ease Limits on Domestic Spying by F.B.I. (NY Times link) As part of a sweeping effort to transform the F.B.I. into a domestic terrorism prevention agency, Attorney General John Ashcroft has decided to relax restrictions on the bureau's ability to conduct domestic spying in counterterrorism operations, senior government officials said today. Here's the Wash. Post's take on the story.
posted by Ty Webb (21 comments total)
God Bless Amerika! Land of the...
posted by jkaczor at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2002

Better watch out, jkaczor. Someone might take that as a snide comment and report you.
posted by Holden at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2002

from the Wash. Post:
The guidelines are an outgrowth of privacy laws that prohibit the government from collecting information except for law enforcement purposes. In the past, the government developed information on specific cases but now needs broader intelligence to prevent terrorist acts.

But here's FBI director Mueller admitting the attacks might have been prevented "if [investigators] had been more diligent about pursuing leads".

It seems increasingly apparent that the FBI's problem is not the inability to gather information, but the inability to process that information.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2002

Holden: ...yeah, but they'd have to request extradition first.

It's too bad, I seriously have considered emigrating to the US in the past, particpating in the ol' brain drain, but in the last couple of years (DCMA, Patriot Bill, extreme empowerment of government agencies), frankly it's not a place I want my daughter to grow up. Basically every distopian, cyberpunk, totalitarian, dictatorial peice of fiction about the future direction of the US is begining to slide into place. It's frightening, enough so that myself and family aren't even sure if we want to be neighbours anymore. We are seriously considering Europe or elsewhere...

Sure Canada tries to copy every peice of legislation the US introduces, but by the time our clowns get through with things, they are usually vastly watered down, and ineffectual.
posted by jkaczor at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2002

The Associated Press has little better overview of the changes. I don't see the point of the FBI gaining more power. The problem with 9/11 was NOT that the FBI didn't have the information. It was that the agents involved could not get the bureaucracy to recognize that information.
We'll have to see how this plays out, although given the track record of federal agencies, it's kind of disheartening.
posted by patrickje at 10:29 AM on May 30, 2002

Does this mean Mueller will have to start wearing dresses in private?
posted by srboisvert at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2002

posted by Irontom at 11:37 AM on May 30, 2002

This is the money shot:

The new guidelines state simply that FBI agents may enter public places and forums, including publicly accessible Internet sites, to observe, develop leads and investigate. The guidelines do not specifically mention religious institutions, but a senior Justice Department official said last night that the impact of the changes will be dramatic in allowing the FBI to open a window on extremist activity in mosques.

jkaczor, before wigging out about living on the same continent as us Blade Runner William Gibson surveillance society types, not to mention the juvenility of spelling our name with a K, what exact restrictions does Canada place on its federal law enforcement agencies, say the RCMP? How's your domestic Canadian spying establishment compare? Not very well, it might appear. I mean, hell, in the US the FBI can't intercept e-mail without a judicial warrant -- that was the whole problem with the Moussaoui business. Looks to me like we may still have a more transparent and accountable system than you guys, even with this limited change in guidelines (which don't, it should be noted, change the laws at all).
posted by dhartung at 12:15 PM on May 30, 2002

Damn, dhartung did you even bother to read the articles?!?

New Justice Department guidelines to be unveiled today will give FBI agents latitude to monitor Internet sites, libraries and religious institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity, officials said yesterday.

I guess you conveniently ignore COINTELPRO as well. Maybe you should look it up.

Given the FBI's rampant historical abuses of civil liberties and the fact that the head of the Justice Depatment is a radical right wing loon, please explain to me exactly why I should take their word for it that they won't abuse their new unconstitutional snooping powers?

Should I just trust them unconditionally as you seem to do?

Maybe you like Big Brother looking over your shoulder. I don't!
posted by mark13 at 1:18 PM on May 30, 2002

mark 13,
dhartung's point, I think, is that the FBI is changing limits that had been set in the wake of Hoover's abuses. The new guidelines are fully within the law, and are constitutional, as far as I can tell.

That doesn't mean it's not troubling, though. It also doesn't address the fact that the FBI's fuck-up doesn't seem to have been on the info gathering end, but on the processing end, as I wrote above.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2002

Frankly, we may not have as many restrictions on our agencies. But the size, scope and budgets of our national agencies wouldn't even appear as a percentage point in terms of what the US spends for it's agencies...

You pass legislation that allows corporations to seriously control innovation, such as the DCMA.

You start the war on terror by firmly targetting your own citizens with legislation like the USA Patriot Act.

Freedom of speech seems to be a fleeting memory, heck let's close down school libraries to, and maybe particpate in Internet Censorship.

You have a long, and BROAD history of abuse of Government Surveillance. Hoover?

Your drug policies are completely draconistic.

Heck, this is getting tedious, you can find out about what rights you are loosing every day at the ACLU yourself...

For more fun tidbits, try the following and search for CIA, or FBI.

I hate to tell you this, but your last 50 years have not been a bed of roses in terms of civil liberty wins. The only prominent victory was in terms of racial issues, at every point, every year and within every level of govermnent, elected or otherwise, you are slowly being stripped of your rights as a citizen.

And... in your linked article, I note:
At about the same time the CSE was under fire for spying on Canadians, the FBI was in the spotlight for its seizure of electronic data via an ISP scanning mechanism. Since 1997, the FBI has used a device called Carnivore, which is basically a ‘packet sniffer’ that collects key information from emails. In brief, the device scans emails and searches for keywords such as “bomb” or “drugs.” The use of Carnivore came to light after an Internet service provider refused the FBI access to their network.

So, as I said, Canada typically copies it's US counterparts, however weakly and ineffectually. If you think that your FBI and CIA do not maintain profiling databases, I've got some tundra to sell you... Hell, you can't even get your NSA to comply with congressional requests for information on Eschelon...

Face it, while Canada ain't perfect, we simply don't have the funds to spy on our citizens to the extent you do. We don't have the history, the experience, or the expertise your FBI, CIA and NSA do...
posted by jkaczor at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2002

... Attorney General John Ashcroft has decided to relax restrictions on the bureau's ability to conduct domestic spying in counterterrorism operations ...

And the FBI will continue to be incapable of protecting us.
posted by dack at 1:41 PM on May 30, 2002

"If you hate this country so much, why don't you leave?"

When it gets bad enough (we're getting closer every day), I hope I am still able to leave.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:51 PM on May 30, 2002

"Love it or leave it" is no longer a viable philosophy-- it's the same deal all over when you're attempting to foil an international terrorist network. More likely, we need a combination of new social conventions and a cleaned-up system so that we can all lead law-abiding, open lives without harassment and trouble.

Cointelpro approach = "Is your neighbor a terrorist ?" + general harassment
Cointelpro approach vs. "How the pros do it"

"Our enemies are transforming -- will we?"
posted by sheauga at 2:44 PM on May 30, 2002

Seems like a slight overreaction to say this is some weird big brother scenerio unfolding. Anyone on this list could enter a religious institution or prayer group - but the FBI felt as though it couldn't. Anyone on this list can browse the internet daily for "...sites and forums in which bomb-making instructions, preparations for cyberterrorism, child pornography, and stolen credit card information are openly traded and disseminated.", but the FBI felt that it couldn't. This article isn't saying they now have some new, deep dark access to people's lives. Only that they no longer have less access to information than any of us sitting in our rooms do. Good.

Damn, I mean, really - lower Manhattan got blown to shit, and my own FBI apparently didn't even think it could Google "Osama bin Laden". Not only am I not filled with dark fear when I hear they may be hunting the internet for sites that teach people how to make bombs, or for child pornographers ... I damn well expect them to.
posted by MidasMulligan at 5:37 PM on May 30, 2002

First, they went after child pornographers, and I sat by and did nothing.... Then they went after webmasters distributing instructions on how to build bombs, and I sat by and did nothing....

Then they went after hackers who stole credit card numbers, and still I sat by and did nothing... Then they went after fanatical religious types, and I sat by and did nothing....

Luckily, they never got around to going after me. I'm still sitting here, doing nothing.

posted by crunchland at 5:48 PM on May 30, 2002

Luckily, they never got around to going after me. I'm still sitting here, doing nothing.

Now that is freakin' funny.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:15 PM on May 30, 2002

mark13, I fail to see how your quoted material contradicts my quoted material. Then you make the assumption that (for example) I trust the FBI "unconditionally". I do not -- I trust the FBI to perform investigations under judicial supervision following constitutional protections within legislative oversight, and that the end result of this spaghetti factory will be, for the most part, in the service of protecting my freedoms and rights against those individuals who would abrogate them.

In this instance, I am comfortable with the FBI expanding its investigative guidelines. As I said, the law has not changed. Your knee-jerk charge that these "snooping powers" are unconstitutional is not an argument I'm taking seriously.

Oh, sorry, I forgot: Hey! It's the fuzz! Cheezit!
posted by dhartung at 7:06 PM on May 30, 2002

I tend to be paranoid of such things, but I have no problem with these guidelines. They are constitutional and reasonable, and I hope FBI uses them effectively and responsibly. The Patriot Act is another matter, that's a nasty piece of legislation IMO. It really pisses me off that when Ashcroft was ramming it through Congress and accusing his critics of aiding terrorists, he withheld the truth of how much good intelligence he really had before 9/11. I never liked the man's politics, but I didn't think he was overtly dishonest until the recent revelations.
posted by homunculus at 9:18 PM on May 30, 2002

Meanwhile, Europe votes to end data privacy.
posted by homunculus at 11:57 PM on May 30, 2002

Your knee-jerk charge that these "snooping powers" are unconstitutional is not an argument I'm taking seriously

Fair enough. I hope you won't mind if I take the same stance with Looks to me like we may still have a more transparent and accountable system than you guys. Based on an Amnesty International article? Are you turning into some kinda lefty, dhartung? (just jest :)

There are points to the US system of government that I wish Canada had, but at least our current leader was voted in (amid dismal opposition), rather than installed by the courts. How's that for more accountability?
posted by holycola at 9:04 AM on May 31, 2002

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