3. PERSONAL PRIVACY ASSAULTED WITHOUT PUBLIC DEBATE
In 1986, the FBI was quietly given extraordinary powers
to look into the most private files of Americans "suspected of being in the
employ of a foreign power."
This latest invasion of privacy was provided
for in the Intelligence Authorization Bill for 1987 which was passed by Congress
with little debate or press coverage in the heat of the end-of-session scramble
when Congressmen and Senators were anxious to return home. In the aftermath of
the Sakharov/Daniloff "spy" incidents and exchange, the FBI counterintelligence
officials persuaded a gullible Congress the bill was needed because they lacked
the resources and information to catch Americans selling secrets to the enemy.
Specifically, the bill gives the FBI access to financial records and telephone
toll logs of individuals suspected of espionage. Those files include data from
banking institutions and telephone companies which reveal some of the most intimate
and private details of a person's daily activities.
A government official
reportedly can learn more from a peek into a checkbook or telephone record than
from a month of court-ordered wiretaps.
Historically this type of information
was considered off-limits to the government. Three years ago, the Internal Revenue
Service attempted to obtain listed, unlisted, and unpublished telephone numbers
directly from the phone companies. The effort was well publicized and the proposal
was abandoned. Subsequently, citing the need to track down drug smugglers, the
Justice Department tried to amend the 1978 Right To Financial Privacy Act to tap
into bank records and pass the information along to various law enforcement agencies.
That proposal also was dropped.
Now, however, the Intelligence bill passed
by Congress, which amends the 1978 Privacy Act, may make those previous attempts
to obtain the files unnecessary; the amendments provide that information obtained
by the FBI under the counterintelligence provisions can be passed to any other
government agency which has a relevant interest in the information.
are some protections written into the language of the bill, however, since there
is no oversight of how the bill is to be used, the public may never know if the
FBI is adhering to the rules.
There also is some question as to whether
the legislation was necessary. An official with the American Banking Association
in Washington said that while he was consulted on the changes, he argued that
the current law was adequate for the FBI's counterintelligence operations.
again, the personal privacy expected by Americans has been assaulted in the name
of "national security." And, once again, the press has failed to let
the people know they have lost another right guaranteed by the Constitution.
NATIONAL REPORTER, Fall/Winter 1986, "News Not In The News: Reach Out and
Crush Someone," by Don Goldberg, pp 6-7.