Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Bush administration wants to “relax” (funny word, that) the restrictions on the Federal Government’s ability to spy on — you. Again.
The Justice Department has proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with federal agencies and retain it for at least 10 years.
The proposed changes would revise the federal government’s rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and would apply to any of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive roughly $1.6 billion each year in federal grants.
Quietly unveiled late last month, the proposal is part of a flurry of domestic intelligence changes issued and planned by the Bush administration in its waning months. They include a recent executive order that guides the reorganization of federal spy agencies and a pending Justice Department overhaul of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and investigating terrorism cases within U.S. borders. […]
Former Justice Department official Jamie S. Gorelick said the new FBI guidelines on their own do not raise alarms. But she cited the recent disclosure that undercover Maryland State Police agents spied on death penalty opponents and antiwar groups in 2005 and 2006 to emphasize that the policies would require close oversight.
“If properly implemented, this should assure the public that people are not being investigated by agencies who are not trained in how to protect constitutional rights,” said the former deputy attorney general. “The FBI will need to be vigilant — both in its policies and its practices — to live up to that promise.”
German, an FBI agent for 16 years, said easing established limits on intelligence-gathering would lead to abuses against peaceful political dissenters. In addition to the Maryland case, he pointed to reports in the past six years that undercover New York police officers infiltrated protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention; that California state agents eavesdropped on peace, animal rights and labor activists; and that Denver police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered.
“If police officers no longer see themselves as engaged in protecting their communities from criminals and instead as domestic intelligence agents working on behalf of the CIA, they will be encouraged to collect more information,” German said. “It turns police officers into spies on behalf of the federal government.”
Does this sound like the actions of a group of political thugs who honestly believe they are going to lose the Presidency? Or do they really want to hand a Democratic President this much power to look into the private lives of each and every one of us? This ought to be at the top of any debate questions asked this year. I know what McCain will say. He’ll be for it. What I want to hear from Obama is a flat out rejection of this type of unwarranted snooping. And a renunciation. And what ever other word you can think of to make it clear that our civil liberties will be preserved.