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ACLU: FBI guideline proposals open door 'to all kinds of abuses'

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • FBI Director Robert Mueller is expected to sign the new guidance
  • Proposed internal changes include eased rules on searching databases, trash
  • Another change would remove a limit on repeated use of surveillance squads
  • FBI says it is merely "fine-tuning" rules on conducting investigations

Washington (CNN) -- The FBI says it is merely "fine-tuning" some of its rules on conducting investigations, but the ACLU claims the changes amount to granting agents "broad new powers" to snoop.

The latest chapter in the ongoing struggle between national security and individual privacy rights is prompted by revisions to the FBI's "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide."

The proposed internal changes grant the Bureau's 14,000 agents the latitude to search existing government and commercial databases without first opening an investigation or assessment. Another change would relax restrictions on when agents may search people's trash. Yet another change would remove a limit on the repeated use of surveillance squads to watch someone.

The FBI and ACLU spoke with CNN about the issues Monday.

"The FBI is claiming the authority to investigate people without actually opening an investigation or assessment, or even having a reason to suspect someone has done anything wrong. This opens the door to all kinds of abuses," said ACLU policy analyst and former FBI agent Mike German.

FBI officials vigorously dispute the ACLU contention.

"Overall, this is fine tuning, not any major change," said Valerie Caproni, FBI general counsel. "Each proposed change has been carefully looked at and considered against the backdrop of the tools our employees need to accomplish their mission, the possible risks associated with use of those tools, and the controls that are in place," Caproni said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is expected to sign the new guidance in the near future, and it will take effect 30 days later, the FBI told CNN.

A senior official at the Justice Department, to which the FBI reports, said the department has no reason to doubt the FBI conclusion the changes fall fully within the existing attorney general guidelines for investigations.