The Justice Department is proposing a domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share sensitive data with federal agencies, and retain it for at least 10 years, reports the Washington Post. The proposal would revise federal rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and would apply to any of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive $1.6 billion each year in federal grants. The proposal is part of a flurry of domestic intelligence changes issued and planned by the Bush administration in its waning months. The moves seem intended to lock in policies for Bush’s successor and to enshrine controversial post-Sept. 11 approaches that some say have fed the greatest expansion of executive authority since the Watergate era.
Supporters say the measures codify existing practices that are endorsed by lawmakers and experts such as the 9/11 Commission. Under the latest proposal, law enforcement agencies would be allowed to target groups as well as individuals, and to launch a criminal intelligence investigation based on the suspicion that a target is engaged in terrorism or providing support to terrorists. Jim McMahon of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said the proposed changes “catch up with reality” in that those who investigate crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking, and document fraud are best positioned to detect terrorists. Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union said the proposed rule may be misunderstood as permitting police to collect intelligence even when no underlying crime is suspected, such as when a person gives money to a charity that independently gives money to a group later designated a terrorist organization.