[JURIST] FBI [official website] powers have expanded rapidly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder], according to a report [text, PDF] released [press release] Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which called on the Obama administration and Congress to rein in the agency. The report states that the FBI’s excessive secrecy has limited oversight and stated that “it took unauthorized leaks by a whistleblower to finally reveal the government’s secret interpretation of these laws and the Orwellian scope of its domestic surveillance programs.” The ACLU also advocated for 15 specific reforms of FBI powers, including the agency’s ability to obtain account information from telecommunications companies, financial institutions and credit agencies without judicial approval and the agency’s warrantless wiretapping. The ACLU stated:
The abuse, enabled by a roll-back of post-Watergate intelligence reforms and encouraged by long-standing Justice Department and FBI practices, has subverted internal and external oversight by squelching whistleblowers, imposing and enforcing unnecessary secrecy, and actively misleading Congress and the American people.
The report was released to coincide with the swearing in of James Comey [press release] as the director of the FBI earlier this month.
The revelations surrounding US surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Last month the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. In June the ACLU in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] against the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government’s surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA technical worker that accessed the surveillance files when he was contracted as a civilian to work on projects for the NSA. He stated in an interview with The Guardian that he released the material because he believed the surveillance violated the right to privacy. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].