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US Justice Department to ease FBI investigation guidelines

[JURIST] Officials from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Friday announced plans [briefing transcript] to implement new guidelines extending the FBI's investigatory powers relating to terrorism. The plan calls for the merger of the Guidelines on General Crimes, the National Security Investigative Guidelines (NSIG) [texts, PDF], and the confidential Supplemental Foreign Intelligence Guidelines, and would allow FBI agents to use more investigatory tools such as undercover operations and anonymous tips while requiring less evidence to use them. One DOJ official said of the proposed merger:

We believed that certain restrictions in the NSIG, or the National Security Guidelines, were actively interfering in our ability to do what we believe Congress, the 9/11 Commission, WMD Commission, and the President and the American people want us to do, which is to become an intelligence-driven agency. ... We found some of the distinctions between what you could do if you were investigating a regular federal crime and what you could do if you were investigating a threat to the national security to be illogical and inconsistent with good public policy. So we didn’t see the public policy rationale for the differences and what could be done under one set of guidelines versus the other.

And finally, having these inconsistent sets of guidelines was extremely problematic from a compliance standpoint.
Rights groups such as the ACLU have criticized the proposal [press release], saying that it would allow baseless investigations, allow racial and ethnic profiling, and would promote the abuse of power. DOJ officials could finalize the proposal by the end of this month. The New York Times has more.

In August, US Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official websites] sent a letter [text, PDF; JURIST report] to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking the DOJ to postpone implementation of the new guidelines until Congress had a chance to review the changes. Mukasey defended the proposed guidelines [JURIST report] before the committee in July, saying they would take into account not only race or religion but also factors such as travel to foreign locations suspected to be terrorism centers. Earlier that month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy website] spoke out against the plan, calling it "unconstitutional and un-American" [press release; JURIST report] and saying that it could allow security agents to target Muslims and Arab-Americans for harassment.

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