What principles should limit the FBI’s surveillance powers?

The FBI has rewritten its own rules to give agents more leeway in investigating people who attract its attention. Critics say the new rules may open the door to abuse. Today’s Question: What principles should limit the FBI’s surveillance powers?

  • A.Ferrey

    Why is the FBI empowered to rewrite its own rules? Shouldn’t it subject to oversight by the Dept of Justice? A law enforcement agency that makes its own rules–??

    PS to Steve the Cynic:, re: “enrichment of the language”, 6/14/11. Just want to reassure you, SC, that yes, I was being sarcastic. Lighten up.

  • Hiram

    The constitution, I suppose.

  • Duane

    Yes, the FBI is subject to the oversight of the Department of Justice, but that is under control of Eric Holder, the Attorney General, a person that refused to look into cases of people with club and other threatening weapons, refusing to allow people to vote in the last election. Is it any wonder this happens. We need to change this administration in 2012.

  • uptownZombie

    Duane, bad things happen on both sides of the fence, open up your eyes. How about people falsely registering voters prior to voting and then throwing the registrations out? How about calling and telling people not to vote that day because it’s been moved or another date or location? How about starting up companies that only have the purpose of spewing out advertisements with completely false information only to close the company up after the election ends?

    Voting fraud and intimidation is so low on the totem poll of things that need to be investigated (it sucks but that’s the truth). Let’s keep our eyes into things like human trafficking, terrorism, financial fraud, drug trafficking and organized crime.

  • Greg

    duane – etal … the number one thing we can do for America is to step it bach a notch. We are running around like every decision is the one that will lead to Armegeddon. We are able to work things out. It may require individuals to sacrifice for the group … but… isn’t that our national myth anyway – lets live up to it.!! …. so .. the FBI – yeah – they should look everywhere the law allows and agressivley so – HOWEVER – if they are found to have looked where they oughtn’t have …. there ought to be automatic fines, adminstrative leaves, assignment to other bureau duties and excessive re-training onthe legal requirements. A second infraction is automatic loss of pension and job and benefits. I think they call this higher standard.

  • Steve the Cynic

    FBI intrusions on civil liberties are a minor symptom of a much bigger problem: rampant anxiety. Other symptoms are the proliferation of conspiracy theories, political polarization, black-white either-or thinking, impatience with nuance, excessive suspicion, social enforcement of ideological purity, the ability of simplistic solutions to gain traction, and the search for a quick fix. Law enforcement abuses happen when the government is too suspicious of the people, and the people of the government.

    PS to A.Ferrey: Thanks for the clarification. I thought so, but it can be hard to tell in this medium whether a posting is sarcasm, or just a preposterous ideological screed.

  • John

    Ever since the Zionist duel citizen with Israel, Michael Chertoff, who wrote the Patriot Act, (it was written before 911), our freedoms have gone away.

    Now cops are banging down doors without warrants and arresting people for video taping them harassing others.

    I would hope one day that our representatives who took the oath to protect the constitution will actually do that, but they voted in another extension to the Patriot Act. More money being spent on securing the government from the people.

  • A.Malkis

    This continues a worrisome trend – each President atttempts to increase the power of the Executive branch at the expense of the others. Candidate Obama oppsoed the worst abuses of the previous Presidents (especially torture, incarceration without trial etc.). President Obama, however, has increased the use of these Executive “powers”. I am very concerned when you couple this license to investigate people for no apparent reason with the asserted power to imprison and assassinate American citizens without judicial checks.

  • Vivian

    //HOWEVER – if they are found to have looked where they oughtn’t have …. there ought to be automatic fines, adminstrative leaves, assignment to other bureau duties and excessive re-training onthe legal requirements


    how ’bout locking them up in one of them gadgets they used back in the colonial days.

    You know, one of them wooden things that they lock your head and hands in and you stand in public scrutiny for a couple days.

    You know how them boys and girls value their ‘reputation’

  • Paula

    The broad phrase “…leeway in investigating people who attract its attention” is a very slippery slope. This phrase needs to be defined. Attract attention doing what? Protesting the war? Surfing the web? Visiting other countries? (this would be the CIA, but you understand what I am arguing).

    For me the most important principle is protection of individual liberties and rights found in the constitution and its amendments. The Patriot Act was enacted and renewed with minor change under the guise of protecting the US citizenry from terrorism. For me, this law is subject to abuse which is why just cause would be my foundational principle.

    I would operationalize “just cause” as having sufficient evidence pointing to the likelihood that a crime will be committed. Surveillance is a tool by which the FBI would determine the who, what, when and how of the crime.

    Proper legal approval through the courts should be obtained for surveillance into a stated crime.

    If, after a reasonable amount of time/surveillance no further evidence is found supporting the commission of a crime, I believe the FBI should stop its surveillance and not prolong its activities, which violate a person’s liberty.

    A question for me is, what is the legal status of information gained about other crimes? the Is this evidence that can be used if the crime discovered was not the crime for which the approval to surveil was obtained. I am sure that case law and other law speaks to this issue.

    Because of the broad definition of “attention” checks and balances are needed to prevent abuse of this expanded ability to surveill.

  • Joe Schaedler

    As the Fourht Amendment said, government officials should not be allowed “unreasonable searches and seizures” . What’s “reasonable” is the real question here.

    In uncertain cases, reasonability was traditionally enforced through the separation of powers. An independent member of the judicial branch – a judge – was required to underwrite a warrrant for search of a particular person/place based on information provided by the executive brance members – police or FBI.

    This should remain the standard – independent judges need to be involved in the process, lest the watchmen run amok.

  • Jim Shapiro

    FBI agents should be permitted to surveille whoever the heck they want, but they should have to do it while wearing a wig, a dress, and high heels, in honor of their esteemed transvestite paranoid founder.

  • Chris

    The FBI and the government cannot be conceptualized as a whole, it is a vast network moving in a variety of directions simultaneously. Within institutions and organizations elements move in a variety of ways, some better than others, each trying to justify itself, and so counter-terrorism programs (which have often failed) are burdened by a demand to reel in some big fish, thus justify the existence and funding of such programs. To do so, the rules have been bent, rewritten and even ignored in order to coerce vulnerable individuals into positions of being puppets for the state. These “puppets” are often held up as examples of what Steve describes as, rampant anxiety. Keeping the people in fear of one another, of outsiders, of an illusive other, maintains the system, and promotes the continued movement of various government elements into radical and oppressive directions.

  • matt

    FBI should be limited to search warrants provided by a judge in a public court proceeding.

  • Fessha

    The FBI is the secret police. Its mandate is to protect the ruling class. Movies and TV versions of the FBI have highly distorted its true character. It is supposed to infiltrate all civic organization and disrupt peaceful demonstration if deemed subversive of the system, it is supposed to put surveillance on individuals it considers anti the established order and it gives briefings skewed with propaganda to discredit anti establishment individuals or institutions. It cannot be limited in the kind of surveillance activities it is supposed to carry because that would render it useless.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The mere fact that you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.