'Unleashed and unaccountable' - ACLU condemns FBI in new report

'Unleashed and unaccountable' - ACLU condemns FBI in new report
A report published on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union urges the Obama administration to reform the Federal Bureau of Investigation following years of documented instances in which the FBI has abused its authority.

In thousands of words spanning a 60-plus page report titled "Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority," the ACLU this week condemns the agency, particularly in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The ACLU argues that since the attacks of 9/11, the federal government has time and time again allowed the FBI to broaden its law enforcement powers, often without sufficient oversight. As a result, they write, the FBI has been transformed into a domestic intelligence and law enforcement agency of unprecedented power and international reach.”

Despite reform enacted in the wake of the infamous years J. Edgar Hoover spent as FBI director, the ACLU says that the agency has “subverted internal and external oversight” in recent time, in turn allowing for gross abuse, often impacting the civil liberties of Americans as a result.

In a plea for change, the ACLU accuses the FBI of “squelching whistleblowers, imposing and enforcing unnecessary secrecy and actively misleading Congress and the American people” since 9/11, and says the agency has “regularly overstepped the law, infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights while overzealously pursuing its domestic security mission.”

Items highlighted by the ACLU in the report include the secretive surveillance powers the agency has inherited through the PATRIOT Act, its power to open investigations of Americans without proof of a crime, racial and religious profiling and the targeting of people exercising their First Amendment-protected rights, such as journalists and political activists.

Published on the anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution, the ACLU urges President Barack Obama and his administration “to conduct a comprehensive examination of the FBI's policies and practices to identify and curtail any activities that are unnecessary, ineffective or misused,” especially before the newly appointed director of the agency, James Comey, can subvert any further the policies enacted by his predecessor, James Mueller, who ran the FBI from before 9/11 up until only this month.

Should the executive and legislative branches not consider reform, the ACLU writes, “FBI officials and certain members of Congress will undoubtedly demand that the new director stay the course, no matter how disastrous it may be for American civil liberties and privacy rights.”

The list of abuses is long and demonstrates that Congress must do a top-to-bottom review of FBI politics and practices to identify and curtail any activities that are unconstitutional or easily misused,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement accompanying the report. “The time for wholesale reform has come.”

One figure cited in the new report portends that the FBI “will soon have the equivalent of 20 pieces of intelligence on every American.”

“An FBI budget request for fiscal year 2008 said the FBI had amassed databases containing 1.5 billion records, and two members of Congress described documents predicting the FBI would have 6 billion records by 2012, which they said would represent “20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States.”

In turn, the ACLU believes that this huge volume of amassed data can be “shared widely.”

“According to a 2012 Systems of Records Notice covering all FBI data warehouses, the information in these systems can be shared broadly, even with foreign entities and private companies, and for a multitude of law enforcement and non-law enforcement purposes.”