FBI's Power Must Be Reduced, Says ACLU


James Comey

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report today criticizing the scope of power of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and calling upon the federal government to curb the bureau.

"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. The time for wholesale reform has come," said the ACLU's National Security Project director, Hina Shamsi.

Forbes' Andy Greenberg acknowledges that "the ACLU's renewed focus on the FBI may seem strange given the recent string of bombshell leaks about the NSA," but points out that the NSA's collection of data "has only been possible because of the FBI's powers to secretly demand that phone companies turn over that data."

The ACLU sees potential in new leadership. The recent appointment of James Comey as Director of the FBI marks "the first change in leadership at the bureau since the 9/11 attacks." Though, as Nick Gillespie previously pointed out, Comey has a mixed record on upholding rights. The ACLU believes that the Obama Administration and the Congress must use this change in leadership "to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the FBI's post-9/11 policies and programs."

The 63-page report, titled "Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI's Unchecked Abuse of Authority," also contends that the post-9/11 policies of the bureaucratic outfit have been detrimental to innocent citizens and the integrity of the law.

The FBI has "unprecedented power and international reach" thanks to the Patriot Act and FISA Amendment Acts, which have led to "a record of extraordinary abuse—particularly targeting racial and religious minorities, immigrants, and protest groups under the guise of counterterrorism," argues the ACLU. Questionable practices include wiretapping, collecting emails, mapping and profiling communities based on ethnicity and race, and infiltrating peace-activist groups.

Additionally, the ACLU argues that the bureau does itself a disfavor by collecting massive quantities of data on average Americans. The amount is overwhelming and impossible to sift through, so the FBI is unable to pursue actual criminals. The report points out that numerous terrorists, including Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, were at some point interrogated but ultimately never stopped from committing crimes. According to the report, "Tsarnaev was one of over 1,000 assessments the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force completed in 2011 alone," leaving the FBI resources stretched and unable to recognize him as a real threat.