Forget Rupert Murdoch, FBI Is the Real Privacy Threat
It is ironic that the mainstream media should pay so much attention to the implosion of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid News of the World, when a far more important snooping scandal was revealed (and mostly ignored) last month right here in America.
In June, anonymous FBI sources leaked an advance copy of the bureau’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, updated for 2011, to the New York Times. In it, agents are authorized to spy on the private life of any American citizen who attracts their attention, regardless of whether that citizen has broken the law.
Specifically, the new handbook permits FBI agents to search law enforcement and commercial databases for information on an individual, rummage through that person’s household garbage and/or follow them with a surveillance team; all without opening a file or formal inquiry. The FBI says that these expanded powers are necessary to “assess” ordinary Americans to determine if they might pose a threat to agents, or if they can be coerced into acting as informants in other investigations.
According to The Times, up until now the use of such methods required “a factual basis for suspecting someone of wrongdoing.” But the FBI’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, said it was too “cumbersome” for agents to meet that standard every time they wanted to run a “quick check” on the personal data, garbage or whereabouts of an American citizen. So the burden has been removed.
Even worse, these changes were implemented without the knowledge or consent of Congress.
Incidentally, the Fourth Amendment states that
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In other words, not only do the new FBI guidelines amount to law-by-administrative-diktat, they violate both the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
This should put what some newspapers are calling “Britain’s Watergate” into perspective for those who value liberty. The reprehensible and illegal actions of a few unethical journalists are not an existential threat to privacy. In fact, they are exactly why laws protecting privacy exist in the first place.
The real threat comes from authorizing 14,000 federal agents to ignore the Constitution and use the legal process to terrorize the very citizens whose privacy and freedom that document was written to protect.
So why is it Rupert Murdoch, and not Eric Holder, whose face is on the cover of newspapers worldwide?