FBI Violated Surveillance Laws

WASHINGTON — In cases that range from snagging bank records to eavesdropping on emails, classified documents obtained by the Washington Post today suggest the FBI has violated state and federal surveillance laws in a number of its investigations.

According to records declassified in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought on by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), hundreds of potentially illegal activities were authorized by the FBI in recent years, especially following the terrorists attacks in New York on Sept. 11.

The papers include cases where emails and bank records were obtained without proper warrants, “unconsented physical” searches of suspects were authorized and even years of covert surveillance in the U.S. of suspects who were tracked without the Justice Department’s knowledge, which is a violation of Justice guidelines.

The documents have already sparked debate in the House and Senate, where politicians must once again face the controversial freedoms laid out in the Patriot Act, which made searching and surveillance easier for law enforcement after Sept. 11 but has consistently ignited controversy as a potential time bomb of civil liberties abuse.

“We're seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” EPIC's General Counsel David Sobel said. “It indicates that the existing mechanisms do not appear adequate to prevent abuses or to ensure the public that abuses that are identified are treated seriously and remedied.”

The FBI, however, is taking the cases lightly, saying the “abuses” were little more than a result of clerical errors or minor miscommunications.

“Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they're not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn't have the proper authority to obtain,” one senior FBI official told the Post, speaking anonymously during the ongoing case. “But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence. The vast majority of the [cases] reported have to do with administrative timelines and time frames for renewing orders.”

Nonetheless, Sobel said 287 violations were found between 2002 and 2004 alone, and is calling for legislation that would require the attorney general to report any FBI violations to the Senate. To aid their case, Sobel and other EPIC representatives sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee today claiming the new documents prove very little is known about how the FBI conducts itself.

The adult community is, of course, no stranger to the eye of the FBI. The EPIC case comes just weeks after the offices of Max Hardcore’s Max World Entertainment were raided by the FBI and a month after the FBI established an anti-obscenity squad to target obscenity abuses throughout the country.