FBI FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTION ACT -- HON. DON EDWARDS (Extension of Remarks - January 03, 1989)
HON. DON EDWARDS
in the House of Representatives
TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 1989
- Mr. EDWARDS of California. Mr. Speaker, today the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers] and I are introducing legislation to establish a simple principle: the Federal Bureau of Investigation should not be monitoring first amendment activities--taking pictures at demonstrations, collecting leaflets and publications, writing down license plate numbers outside conferences--without some direct relevance to the investigation of criminal activity.
- In most of its investigations, the FBI already adheres to a criminal standard. It opens a case only when it has reason to believe that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. However, as was revealed last year, the FBI in some cases will investigate lawful activity by U.S. citizens who support foreign groups. This makes it hard for the FBI to define the scope of its own investigations. It means that the Bureau monitors first amendment activities--marches, meetings, rallies, conferences, demonstrations, petitioning, organizing--of U.S. citizens even where there is no reason to believe that evidence of Federal crimes can be collected.
- The bill we are introducing today specifies that the FBI should follow a criminal standard in opening and conducting cases that may involve the collection of information on first amendment rights.
- Since 1976, the FBI has adhered to this criminal standard in all its investigations of domestic terrorism, and it has not been hampered at all in its effort to keep domestic terrorism under control. To the contrary, it has been very successful, making important arrests and putting members of dangerous groups in jail.
- The FBI should adhere to the same standard in investigating international terrorism. If the FBI receives credible information that an individual or group is engaging in illegal activities, it should investigate those illegal activities. Anything short of the criminal standard means that the FBI will be free to broadly investigate a U.S. group that `supports' a foreign entity our Government has labeled terrorist, even if the U.S. group is not engaged in illegal activity.
- In testimony last year before House and Senate committees, the Director of the FBI testified that the secret Attorney General guidelines under which the FBI operates do not contain sufficient guidance and specificity on how to investigate groups that `support' international terrorism. Our bill would provide that guidance and specificity by establishing a criminal standard for all FBI investigations that may involve surveillance of the exercise of First Amendment rights. Our bill would put some specificity in the words `aiding or abetting' in the current Attorney General guidelines, making it clear that the FBI can investigate a domestic group only if it engages in illegal conduct.
- Our bill also addresses the question of what to do with the files after a case is closed where the FBI improperly collected information on first amendment activities. The bill would require the FBI to dispose of the records in a manner that protects the individuals whose names show up in those files. The provision ensures that the records may not be disseminated inside the Bureau and may not be disseminated outside the Bureau except to requesters under the FOIA and the Privacy Act. The records will be preserved for historical purposes and will be available to the record subjects, who have a right to know what surveillance they were subject to.
- The requirements in the bill are not onerous. They establish a clear reliable standard that will protect the rights of Americans and ensure that the FBI, when it investigates U.S. persons, focuses on criminal activity.
- Americans have a right to express peacefully support for anyone and anything, and they should not have the FBI looking over their shoulder. The FBI is our Nation's premier law enforcement agency. It should focus on what it does best: catching criminals and spies.