Tester calls on FBI to abandon new investigation authority
Senator: FBI plans ‘further eroding the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans’
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is calling on the FBI to abandon plans to give its 14,000 agents significant new powers to investigate the private lives of law-abiding Americans.
Tester’s call comes after reports that the FBI is drafting new rules to give its agents authority to search databases for personal information, use surveillance teams to monitor citizens, and even to sift through their trash.
Under new rules, agents would no longer need to have a “factual basis” of evidence to undertake such surveillance on Americans and would no longer be required to keep records of their searches.
In a letter sent today to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Tester asked the agency to continue using its current protocol, which requires agents to “open such inquiries with due diligence before they can search for information.”
“While we all agree that it is critical that law enforcement have access to the necessary tools to investigate signs of criminal or terrorist activity, it is important that these intrusive techniques, which risk an unwarranted invasion of privacy, are limited,” Tester wrote. “I urge you to use your surveillance authority responsibly and with the rights of law-abiding citizens in mind.”
A 2007 report by the U.S. Justice Department inspector general found that the FBI has frequently improperly misused its authority to obtain personal information like telephone records without a court order.
Tester is an outspoken advocate for Americans’ privacy rights and a consistent opponent of the controversial Patriot Act. Tester voted against an extension of the law last month, saying it “tramples our constitutional rights.”
“We’ve got to make sure the agencies charged with keeping Americans safe are held accountable and honor the rights guaranteed by our Constitution,” Tester said. “Whether it’s rejecting the Patriot Act, or a national ID card, or encroachments on our civil liberties, I’ll always fight to defend the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Tester’s letter to Mueller, available online HERE, appears below.
The Hon. Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Dear Director Mueller:
I write to express extreme concern that your agency is further eroding the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans guaranteed by our Constitution.
It has come to my attention that you have made significant revisions to your Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide which, if implemented would reportedly give roughly 14,000 agents significantly more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of law-abiding Americans.
As a strong believer in government accountability and personal privacy rights, I find it unacceptable that you would lower the threshold further for engaging in surveillance on Americans who are not suspected of criminal wrongdoing. It is unconscionable for the FBI to pursue policies that allow agents to search commercial or law enforcement databases – or even an individual’s garbage – without adequate justification and proper record-keeping. I ask you to retain your current protocol, where agents must open such inquiries with due diligence before they can search for information. Until law enforcement agents have reason to investigate any American, it is unacceptable for those agents to cast a wide, non-specific net when they are evaluating a target as a potential informant.
While we all agree that it is critical that law enforcement have access to the necessary tools to investigate signs of criminal or terrorist activity, it is important that these intrusive techniques, which risk an unwarranted invasion of privacy, are limited. Montanans and all Americans expect us to defend and strengthen our Constitutional rights. The government’s recent abuse of National Security Letters to obtain information without court orders was an unacceptable invasion of privacy and an assault on our rights.
I have grave concerns about this same pattern of overreach. And I urge you to use your surveillance authority responsibly and with the rights of law-abiding citizens in mind.