As James Comey takes over as the new FBI director, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Obama administration and Congress to rein in the increasing power of the agency.
In a critical 63-page report that will be issued Tuesday, the ACLU says the powers of the FBI have expanded too dramatically over the past 12 years, transforming the Bureau into a “secret domestic intelligence agency.”
“The excessive secrecy with which it cloaks these domestic intelligence gathering operations has crippled constitutional oversight mechanisms,” the report says. “Courts have been reticent to challenge government secrecy demands and, despite years of debate in Congress . . . it took unauthorized leaks by a whistleblower to finally reveal the government’s secret interpretation of these laws and the Orwellian scope of its domestic surveillance programs.”
The ACLU report, entitled “Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority,” compiles examples of the changes of law and policy since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, which the group says “unleashed the FBI from its traditional restraints and opened the door to abuse.”
A spokesman for the FBI said he could not comment on the report because FBI officials had not yet seen it.
The changes highlighted in the report include the FBI’s racial and ethnic mapping program, which allows the FBI to collect demographic information to map American communities by race and ethnicity; the use of secret National Security Letters, which asked for account information from telecommunications companies, financial institutions and credit agencies and required no judicial approval; warrantless wiretapping; and the recent revelations about the government’s use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to track all U.S. telephone calls.