Magazine article The World and I

Can the CIA and FBI Meet the Threat? Letting the FBI Loose?

Magazine article The World and I

Can the CIA and FBI Meet the Threat? Letting the FBI Loose?

Article excerpt

When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the revised Justice Department guidelines governing domestic intelligence investigations in May, critics argued that the administration had gone too far. In the name of fighting terrorism, the attorney general was "rolling back" civil-liberties protections, leading us back to the "bad old days" when the FBI spied on Martin Luther King Jr., black militants, and the antiwar movement.

In addition to easing the evidentiary standard for opening an investigation, the new guidelines allow FBI field offices to launch terrorism investigations without first getting clearance from headquarters. FBI agents are now permitted to monitor a full range of public sites, be they on the Web, at libraries, or in mosques. Critics argue that this will be an infringement on First Amendment rights of free speech and religious practice.

On this particular issue, however, the attorney general has solid precedent. In Laird v. Tatum (1972), the Supreme Court rejected the view that an individual suffers harm from "the mere existence, without more, of a governmental investigative or data-gathering activity."

Of course, just because the Constitution permits something doesn't mean that the government should sanction it. For Americans, it is almost second nature to worry about the discretionary investigative powers wielded by the executive branch. After all, this complaint is found in the Declaration of Independence against King George. …

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