The FBI is making it easier for agents to snoop on their fellow Americans without leaving a paper trail, raising disturbing questions outlined by The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer. A former agent quoted by Serwer says it may return the agency to the COINTELPRO era.

That would be the period from roughly 1956 to 1971 when the bureau used its considerable powers to attack, discredit and imprison Americans with whom it had political differences. — PZS

The American Prospect:

Civil liberties and privacy advocates I spoke to were primarily concerned about two things: The degree to which alleviating agents of the duty to establish a paper trail could invite further abuse, and the possibility that this kind of information gathering could be used to find compromising–not criminal–information that could be used to coerce individuals into becoming informants or otherwise harming people’s reputations. It will be difficult to ferret out abuse of investigative authority if agents are less often required to justify the use of those tools to their superiors.

“It’s just an invitation for abuse,” says Emily Berman of the Brennan Center, who is the author of a recent report on domestic intelligence gathering. “If you know nobody is looking over your shoulder and can never be, the deterrent factor goes out the window.”

Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works at the ACLU and was briefed by the FBI on the new guidelines, agreed. “The way you catch this is, you searched Mike German, show me the case, where that was relevant. Now they don’t have to show you anything,” German says. “They just say, I had a hunch, and I didn’t keep the records because it turned out to be nothing.”

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