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Sunday, September 14, 2008

New rules would give FBI more freedom in U.S. operations

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is finalizing rules that would allow FBI agents to solicit informants and use other new techniques to bolster the agency's intelligence-gathering operation in the United States, officials said Friday.

The changes would expand rules the department enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks that permitted the FBI to conduct "assessments" of threats of terrorism and espionage even in instances where little or no proof existed of criminal activity.

Such assessments are separate from formal investigations, which can involve more invasive investigative methods but which require harder evidence.

Justice officials said the FBI had been hamstrung in carrying out the earlier mandate because the agency had been limited to "overt" intelligence-gathering techniques, such as permitting agents to conduct interviews only when they identified themselves.

But the proposed revisions have raised concerns among civil liberties groups that the FBI would have too much latitude to collect information on U.S. residents and would be allowed to track people based on their race or ethnicity. [Mark Godsey]

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