Chair Raskin, Ranking Member Mace Request GAO Review of FBI Surveillance of Americans to Protect First Amendment Rights
Washington, D.C. (March 7, 2022)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Nancy Mace, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that it conduct a comprehensive review of Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) practice of surveilling individuals and groups through activities it classifies as “assessments.”
“We are concerned that FBI assessments operate as de facto investigations that can be launched without a factual predicate of criminal wrongdoing,” the Members wrote. “We ask that GAO examine whether assessments result in the improper monitoring of protected First Amendment activity—including by political, racial, or religious organizations—and whether the FBI has sufficient controls in place to ensure that they do not run afoul of constitutional protections.”
In 2008, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revised its guidelines for FBI domestic operations to include a separate category of “assessments,” which require an authorized purpose but do not require a factual basis for the investigation.
The updated guidelines allow the FBI to use “intrusive investigative techniques,” including the use of informants and unlimited physical surveillance, on individuals and groups that are not linked to criminal wrongdoing or considered national security threats. The guidelines also eliminated several procedural checks and have allowed the FBI to use race, religion, or protected speech as factors in choosing targets for assessments.
Between 2008 and 2011, the FBI reportedly opened more than 80,000 assessments of individuals and groups but fewer than 3,400 produced information that led to a more intensive investigation. For example, the Bureau used the 2008 guidelines to carry out a two-year assessment into a group opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline, and field offices in cities like Ferguson, Missouri repeatedly opened assessments on “black identity extremists” between 2015 and 2018 despite the lack of any known connection between these individuals and violent activity.
In today’s letter, the Members requested that GAO conduct a review of the FBI’s use of assessments from December 1, 2008, to the present, including an examination of the individuals and groups targeted by these investigations, and issue a report on its findings.
Click here to read the letter to GAO.