The Magazine May 2013 - Page 6



The contest between liberty and security has been with America since its founding. It has been fought on the public stage by every President from George Washington to Barack Obama. Each generation, from those facing rebellion in the 1860s to those pushing back against government intrusions a century later, has debated where to strike a balance. But in the dark world of 21st century law enforcement, where terrorist threats can hide behind our most cherished freedoms, the battle sometimes takes place in government documents so obscure that they escape public notice.

Take the case of the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. In October 2011, Obama’s Justice Department, mindful of increasing signs of homegrown terrorism, quietly granted FBI agents new powers that disturbed civil libertarians. Federal agents could now data-mine vast stores of information about individuals without making a reviewable record of their actions. They could conduct extensive physical surveillance of suspects without firm evidence of criminal or terrorist activity. They could interview people under false pretenses. They even had wider freedom to rummage through the trash of potential sources.

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