ACLU: FBI mapping and suspicionless spying, violate 1st, 4th and 14th amendments

The FBI has been using "mass suspicion" domestic spying for years, but the ACLU discovered the FBI has been using Census data for geospatial mapping based on "crude" and "unconstitutional stereotyping" of ethnic and religious groups. 


The FBI domestic spying may include "techniques such as physical surveillance, commercial and law enforcement database searches, FBI interviews, and informants." Intrusive investigations are launched; assessments require absolutely no suspicion whatsoever, and preliminary investigations are based on "mere speculation that a crime may be committed in the future." The filed suspicious activity reports (SARs) may forever stay in counterterrorism databases. As the ACLU stated, "Even when these investigations produce no evidence of wrongdoing, the FBI retains the information collected indefinitely." In other words, it's stomping the Constitution in the name of national security.

Last year, the ACLU reported that Americans are harassed and put under surveillance for simply exercising their First Amendment rights and that spying on free speech in America was nearly as bad now as it was during the Cold War. But the FBI has a history of spying on peaceful activists and groups "based on factually weak" possibilities of any federal crime. The FBI also has a history of lying to the Justice Department about the illegal surveillance. And that was before the FBI was granted even more authority via the 2011 edition of the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) which will turn 14,000 FBI agents into a dumpster diving brigade. The newly expanded FBI spying powers require neither probable cause nor the need to be suspected of actual wrongdoing before scrutinizing your life. The ACLU said of these new snooping rights, that the FBI is "lowering its already rock bottom standards for surveillance."

After obtaining thousands of heavily redacted FBI documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in 31 states and Washington, D.C., the ACLU connected the dots to map the FBI. Last week, the ALCU published two "Eye on the FBI" reports that expose FBI abuse of authority and misconduct. One report showed the FBI uses Census demographic data for widespread stereotyping and unconstitutional racial profile mapping. The second report revealed that the FBI uses biased "counterterrorism training materials that falsely and inappropriately portray Arab and Muslim communities as monolithic, alien, backward, violent and supporters of terrorism."

The FBI mapping more or less gives government agencies or law enforcement an "excuse" to conduct intelligence investigations. For example, an FBI memo about Chinese and Russian organized crime in San Francisco said there should be a domain management program to "identify" and "map" the Chinese and Russian population in the city. Another Atlanta FBI memo mapped the population growth of blacks in Georgia. Others targeted organizations based on First Amendment activities. Racial profiling memos that allegedly justified domain management programs for racial mapping also occurred in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Vermont, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina.

The FBI responded to the ACLU report by claiming "the FBI joins the ACLU in opposing racial or ethnic discrimination." The FBI maintained the DIOG "clearly prohibits predication of investigative activity solely on the exercise of First Amendment rights, including freedom of religion, or on race or ethnicity." It goes so far as to assert, "the DIOG establishes greater overall protections for privacy than the law requires, and reflects the FBI's commitment to detecting and disrupting threats while safeguarding civil rights and civil liberties."

Yeah right; did you skeptically snort your disgusted disbelief too? The ACLU stated, the "FBI's own documents show that this simply is not true."

The FBI statement also claimed, "To fulfill its national security mission, the FBI cannot simply wait for people to report potential threats." Furthermore "geospatial mapping is widely used by law enforcement. Just as putting push pins on a map will allow a local police chief to see clearly where the highest crime areas are, combining data that is lawfully collected into one place allows connections to be identified that might otherwise go unnoticed."

But this is not "push pin" mapping to "better understand the communities that are potential victims of the threats," since an assessment can be opened on individuals with no suspicion of any actual crimes or of being a "terrorism" threat. The ACLU said the FBI's "assertion that the racial mapping program is like a police chief putting pushpins on a map to identify high-crime areas makes no sense; the 'pins' in the FBI program don't map crimes, they map innocent people based on nothing but their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin and stereotypes broadly linking these groups to threats. Big difference."

In fact, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent Michael German told Salon's Justin Elliott:

It violates the First, Fourth and 14th amendments. This program is entirely targeting communities of people for investigation based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, denying them equal protection under the law - and also targeting people because of their First Amendment-protected activities. They are then conducting broad suspicionless investigations called assessments, and collecting information in which there are Fourth Amendment concerns that it is unreasonable to conduct such invasive investigations.

Every minute and every dollar wasted to investigate innocent individuals could be used instead by the FBI to track real threats.

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