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Coming soon to a trash bin near you: The FBI

Privacy advocates were recently briefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about changes coming to the FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which governs how agents may conduct domestic surveillance and investigations.

Charlie Savage of The New York Times writes today that the new rules aim to give agents more latitude in investigating persons or organizations for signs of criminal or terrorist activity and cut down on cumbersome record-keeping.

In 2009 the Time published a redacted version of the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide dated December 2008 (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request) which revealed expanded surveillance powers granted to FBI agents by the Bush administration.

Under the FBI's rules, agents are allowed to retain personal information obtained about a subject even if no evidence turns up of any wrongdoing. Agents were also authorized to "proactively" begin investigations (the lowest level of which is termed an "assessment") on potential targets, even without specific justification; and restrictions on the use of intrusive techniques (such as infiltrating organizations, use of informants, or photographing subjects) were loosened.

Now the FBI's revised document will ease rules further. For example, instead of being required to formally open assessments on subjects before conducting searches for information, agents may do so without keeping a record.

Restrictions on the administration of lie-detector tests will be relaxed, as will searching people's garbage, when it comes to evaluating a subject's potential use as an FBI informant.

Also clarified in the manual are special rules governing an FBI agent or informant's surreptitious participation in an organization.

FBI general counsel Valerie E. Caproni told The Times the revised manual represented a "fine-tuning" of rules rather than major changes to the way domestic investigations and surveillance are conducted.

Michael German, a former FBI agent and now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times that it was unwise to ease restrictions on agents' ability to use intrusive techniques. He argued that the changes would make it more difficult to detect inappropriate activity on the part of agents.

"Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse," said Mr. German.

To read more visit The New York Times website.

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