November 3, 2009
Last week, the New York Times wrote about privacy concerns because the Federal Bureau of Investigations relaxed their standards after September 11th, 2001. What the reporter did not mention was that many conservative, religious and libertarian groups spoke up when the post 9/11 guidelines were adopted. We voiced our concern that the FBI under the new guidelines might stifle lawful dissent and chill religious expression.
At the time I was working for Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation. Our Coalition for Constitutional Liberties put out a coalition letter to the House Judiciary Committee urging a more directed focus on accurate intelligence gathering.
I reiterated my arguments in a commentary published in The Washington Times. As I pointed out there, the guidelines under President Ronald Reagan were prefaced with this directive, “Preliminary inquiries and investigations governed by these guidelines are conducted for the purpose of preventing, detecting, or prosecuting violations of federal law. They shall be conducted with as little intrusion into the privacy of individuals as the needs of the situation permit.” Unfortunately, that language was struck after 9/11.
I was one of the privacy leaders at the time that briefed House Judiciary Committee staffers on our concerns and thoughts regarding the guidelines changes. In that briefing, I recommended our previous work on the Task Force for Information Exchange and Financial Privacy.
Many conservative, libertarian and religious groups stood up for privacy and constitutional liberties with President Bush. With that in mind, I hope our friends on the left will not automatically give the current administration the benefit of the doubt — institutional interests often trump partisan pretense.
The best way to keep us safe and free is eternal vigilance — no matter which party is in office. Certainly the current administration should do at least as good a job as Reagan did protecting our privacy and other constitutional liberties. So, let’s hope our friends on the left stand up now when they’re needed!