WASHINGTON (AP) – Under fire from civil liberties groups, the FBI is defending domestic surveillance guidelines that critics fear could unfairly target innocent Muslims in terrorism and other criminal investigations.
“It’s quite an invasive data collection system,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of the nonprofit group Muslim Advocates. “It’s based on generalized suspicion and fear on the part of law enforcement, not on individualized evidence of criminal activity.”
Khera spoke in an interview on the eve of a Capitol Hill appearance by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was scheduled to testify Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a statement, the bureau said its procedures are designed to ensure that FBI probes don’t zero in on anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or the exercise of any other constitutional right.
The FBI said its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide equips agents with lawful and appropriate tools so the agency can transform itself into an intelligence-driven organization that investigates genuine criminal and national security threats.
Last September, the FBI disclosed an edited version of the guide as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The manual was approved in December 2008, during the final days of the George W. Bush administration, and establishes policy that guides all the FBI’s domestic operations, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, crime and cyber crime.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in against the guide. The group asked FBI field offices in 29 states and Washington, D.C., to turn over records related to the bureau’s collection of data on race and ethnicity.
According to the ACLU, the FBI’s operations guide gives agents the authority to create maps of ethnic-oriented businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.
While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI’s attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement, according to the ACLU.