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Senators seek rights protections in FBI probes
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    WASHINGTON — Three Democratic senators demanded ‘‘bare-minimum’’ civil rights protections Tuesday for Americans who might be targeted in FBI national security investigations without any evidence of wrongdoing.
    In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the senators also urged the Justice Department to delay still-tentative rules that would expand FBI powers to seek out potential terrorists. They said the new policy could allow surveillance of Muslim- or Arab-Americans based, in part, on their race, ethnicity or religion.
    ‘‘The Justice Department’s actions over the last eight years have alienated many Americans, especially Arab and Muslim Americans,’’ wrote Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold and Edward M. Kennedy. ‘‘We are concerned that issuing new attorney general guidelines without a more transparent process will actually make the FBI’s job more, not less, difficult by exacerbating mistrust in communities whose cooperation the FBI needs.’’
    The rules, known as the attorney general guidelines, do not require congressional approval. The Justice Department has said it wants to have them in place by Oct. 1.
    But a growing group of House and Senate lawmakers — comprised of both Democrats and Republicans — has urged Mukasey to release the policy to the public before it takes effect, allowing scrutiny and easing concerns about rule-making done in secret.
    ‘‘To do otherwise could hinder the Justice Department’s efforts to protect our national security,’’ the senators wrote.
    First reported by The Associated Press, the rules are intended to update policies governing investigations as the FBI shifts from a traditional crime-fighting agency to one whose top priority is protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.
    The Justice Department says the guidelines will merely streamline existing authorities used in criminal and national security investigation. Critics call them a broad expansion of FBI powers that could result in racial, ethnic or religious profiling without any evidence of wrongdoing.
    Tuesday’s letter also urged Justice Department anew to shelve the rules until after a new president takes office.
    Barring that, the senators wrote, the guidelines should at least include what they called ‘‘bare minimum’’ safeguards ‘‘to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans and ensure that limited FBI resources are used effectively.’’
    Those protections include:
    —Explicitly banning surveillance or other investigative activity based on a suspect’s race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. The Justice Department maintains that the guidelines do not — and will not — allow investigations to be opened based only on such factors.
    But the senators noted that traffic stops and other routine law enforcement activity specifically prohibit officials from considering race or ethnicity in any way, and urged Mukasey to adopt the same standards in national security cases.
    —Require some factual proof, allegations or other grounds, known as predicate, for opening inquires that fall short of an investigation. The draft guidelines would allow surveillance, interviews and other intrusive activity of Americans without evidence of a crime.
    The senators said such activities could ‘‘lead to fishing expeditions that waste valuable resources and damage the reputations of innocent people.’’
    —Require specific plans to protect information that the FBI collects about U.S. citizens and residents, particularly in gathering foreign intelligence data.

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