Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Based on a Vague Tip, the Feds Can Surveil Anyone
AT ITS LOWEST level of investigative activity, on the basis of vague tips or broad intelligence interests, the FBI can follow people with airplanes, examine travel records, and analyze links between email, phone, and other records collected by intelligence agencies.
Two large FBI manuals obtained by The Intercept, one of which is classified, offer previously unreleased information about just how powerful an intelligence apparatus the FBI draws on even for low-level checks, known as “assessments.”
Assessments allow agents to look into tips or leads that don’t meet the standard for opening an investigation, which requires specific information or allegations of wrongdoing — an “articulable factual basis” for suspicion, as FBI rules put it. In an assessment, by contrast, an agent just needs to give an “authorized purpose” for their actions. Agents can open assessments “proactively,” in order to evaluate potential informants, collect intelligence about threats surrounding public events, study a field office’s geographical area, or gather information about a general phenomenon of interest to the bureau.