FBI needs oversight, regulation

By Editorial Board

The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the homes of several anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis in September 2010. Since then, several more protesters have been subpoenaed to testify before grand juries, although no charges have been filed against them, and no evidence has been disclosed by the Bureau. This lack of justification seems to support the demonstrators’ claims that the raids were just a show of power and a scare tactic on the federal government’s part.

The activists and their supporters held a protest in front of the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St., on Jan. 25, to speak out against the FBI’s tactics. The subpoenaed individuals justifiably refused to testify.

The FBI abuses the power and authority granted to it by the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, which eases restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to access private information. The Bureau doesn’t need a warrant or any evidence to investigate individuals suspected of providing “material support” to terrorist organizations. However, “material support” is a loosely-defined term that can be used to justify activity that would be illegal for regular law enforcement authorities.

For example, a common tactic employed by the FBI is the use of National Security Letters, which are subpoenas that can request information from individuals with no warrant, judicial oversight or probable cause. The letters also contain a gag order that prevents the subpoenaed people from telling anybody other than their legal counsel about them.

There needs to be more oversight regarding the use of such tactics. While they could be useful in actually combating terrorism, when the organizations employing said tactics are given a blank check to abuse them, the whole situation looks more like a witch hunt. The FBI’s activity is reminiscent of McCarthyist persecution of suspected communists, a scare tactic that had a chilling effect on free speech with no real benefit.

If the federal government continues to persecute activists based on little or no evidence, other like-minded people will be more hesitant to speak their minds. Therefore, the activists’ refusal to testify is commendable. Instead of giving in to the FBI’s intimidation, they took a stand to defend their privacy and their First Amendment rights. The federal government will continue to trample civil liberties under the pretense of national security unless people stand together in opposition.