After the FBI was caught spying on and disrupting non-violent political movements in the United States in the 1960s and '70s, Attorney General Edward Levi wrote the first Attorney General Guidelines for domestic operations. Those rules protected free speech from government spying. As EPIC observes:
Levi's Guidelines prohibited investigations into speech activities where there was no advocacy of violence. Levi also prohibited the FBI from engaging in disruption of protected First Amendment activity and from attempting to discredit individuals. The Guidelines specified that investigations should be limited to exposing criminal conduct and should not involve simple monitoring of unpopular political views. Investigations could only be brought where "specific and articulable facts" indicated criminal activity.
In other words, back then when the federal government wanted to investigate you, they had to have some kind of proof that you were engaged in criminal activity. Not anymore.
In late 2008, the Attorney General of the United States released new regulations for domestic investigations procedure. The FBI used these regulations to write new guidelines for their own domestic investigations, called the Domestic Investigations Operations Guidelines, or DIOGs. (The following slides come from FBI training materials released to the ACLU through a FOIA request.) (UPDATE: In June 2011, the FBI announced further changes to its DIOGs. See those changes here.)
As you see above, the FBI's DIOGs apply not only to FBI agents, but also to task force agents deputized to work for the FBI. These include state and local law enforcement officers working with Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) at so-called "fusion" surveillance centers nationwide.
The new DIOGs grant the FBI broad powers, including the authority to spy on anyone for no articulable reason and to use ethnicity and race as determining factors in investigations.
The DIOGs divide up investigations into the following categories:
Agents need have no proof of wrongdoing to open an "Assessment" of someone. What do they need?
To put that in plain language: an FBI employee can open an assessment of someone for any reason at all, even if the assessment is related to the exercise of First Amendment rights, as long as the agent suspects that something else is going on. Again, no evidence is necessary. The DIOG clearly states: "no particular factual predication" is required to open an assessment.
According to DOJ documents obtained by the New York Times, the FBI has initiated 11,667 assessments, of which about 95% led to no further investigation.
As former FBI agent Mike German told the New York Times: “These are investigations against completely innocent people that are now bound up within the F.B.I.’s intelligence system forever. Is that the best way for the F.B.I. to use its resources?”
What can FBI agents and task force agents do during an assessment?
Preliminary investigations may be initiated on the basis of any "allegation or information" indicative of possible criminal activity or threats to the national security.
As you can see, there are many redactions on the second slide showing approved investigations methods. It's strange that the Bureau chose to redact some portions of those slides, because in the actual DIOG document, available on the FBI's website, it clearly states that agents involved in preliminary investigations are allowed to use:
All of these rules apply to regular FBI investigations.
Do you think the FBI should be able to photocopy your mail, rifle through your trash, follow you around town, see your phone and email records, and monitor your movements with cameras and directional microphones all without a warrant or reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime? No?