The FBI is giving significant new powers to its 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash, or use surveillance teams to scrutinize people’s lives, says the New York Times. The bureau will issue a new edition of its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Its new rules add to several measures taken over the last decade to give agents more latitude as they search for criminal or terrorist activity.
The FBI has briefed privacy advocates about the coming changes. Michael German, a former FBI agent now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to ease restrictions on agents' power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing. “Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse,” German said, citing complaints about the bureau's surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general's findings in 2007 that the FBI had frequently misused “national security letters,” which allow agents to obtain information like phone records without a court order. Valerie Caproni, FBI general counsel, said the bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur.