The Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently approved the use of broader powers by approximately 14,000 agents involved in observing criminal and terrorist activities. These increased powers allow them greater freedom to search databases, rummage through household garbage and even deploy surveillance teams to spy on the daily lives of those who are unfortunate enough to have attracted Big Brother’s attention.
The new rules granting FBI agents greater leeway in their investigations are to be outlined in the newest edition of their operation manual, namely the “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” This guide, purportedly designed to outline the measures agents may take when investigating private citizens, is available for download at the following website.
This redacted copy was made available to the public after the FBI was threatened by a Freedom of Information lawsuit. According to the current rules, FBI agents must initiate a formal inquiry before they may search commercial or law enforcement databases for details on an individual. This formal inquiry, known as an “assessment,” would be eliminated under the new rules, allowing agents to proactively inquire about anyone without the need to make a record about their decisions.
The new rules also give agents greater leeway in conducting lie-detector tests and trash searching. The current rules require agents to open a “preliminary investigation” prior to engaging in these activities. Unlike an assessment, a preliminary investigation requires factual basis of any wrongdoing a suspect is believed to have committed. This will change under the new rules, allowing agents to also use lie-detector tests and trash searching in order to evaluate and identify individuals as potential informants. Current rules restrict the use of surveillance squads trained to follow targets to just one use per assessment. The new rules will relax this requirement, allowing them to be used repeatedly.
Privacy advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are completely against easing restrictions on what agents are allowed to do during their investigations, claiming that the potential for abuse would only worsen. Reducing the requirements to conduct low-level investigations like assessments would allow agents to spy on any private citizen for virtually any reason whatsoever, regardless if they have firm reason to believe that citizen has committed any crimes.
It is a clear sign that privacy rights are diminishing when every man, woman and child is a potential target for an investigation. What does that say about America when the very lives of private citizens are open to complete scrutiny by the authorities who have no writ, no warrant, and not even probable cause to begin investigating? Citizens truly disgusted by these draconian measures should take back their personal privacy by exercising a bit of due diligence in their daily lives. It is highly advisable to use cash when making purchases, refusing to give out personal details that can be added to a merchant’s customer database. These databases collect purchase history that can be used to track and analyze customer spending habits. If credit cards are necessary, use a pre-paid one sparingly. Shred all sensitive documents prior to disposal, making sure to use a “cross cut” shredder instead of a straight cut model. It may be inconvenient, but disposing of sensitive items a t a municipal disposal site may offer more security than leaving one’s trash on the curbside. When it comes to maintaining electronic privacy, sign up for a Virtual Private Networking service. A VPN service acts a secure tunnel between a user’s computer and the Internet. Data transmitted to and from the VPN service is encrypted, thus preventing hackers, criminals and other prying eyes from spying on your data without your consent. While the FBI may be making it easier for their agents to spy on private citizens, it doesn’t mean citizens have to follow suit.