Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The FBI Has a File on You, So Now What?

If the FBI had a file on you, what would you do? Prominent international criminal law professor Cherif Bassiouni faced precisely such a dilemma. So what did Bassiouni do? Bassiouni, who teaches at Depaul School of Law and is well known in ICC circles, requested a copy of the files, found errors in the 50-page report, and demanded that they be corrected. When the FBI refused, he made a federal case out of it and took it all the way to the Seventh Circuit. The FBI admitted that Bassiouni was not a member of a terrorist organization, but refused to reveal why it was keeping a file on him, stating that that information was classified.

Last week, the Seventh Circuit in Bassiouni v. FBI, ruled that no corrections were needed. Here is an excerpt:
The FBI notes its ongoing investigations into the threats posed by terrorist groups, specifically those originating in the Middle East.... Because of the nature of these investigative activities, and because of the breadth of Mr. Bassiouni's contacts with the Middle East, the FBI anticipates that it will continue to receive information about Mr. Bassiouni. ... The Bureau's file on Mr. Bassiouni will provide context for evaluating that new information.... We believe that the purposes identified by the Bureau fall within "authorized law enforcement activity" conducted by the FBI. We note ... that the realm of national security belongs to the executive branch, and we owe considerable deference to that branch's assessment in matters of national security. Furthermore, although the Privacy Act certainly does not authorize collection and maintenance of information of private citizens on the "off-hand" chance that such information may someday be useful, it does not require law enforcement agencies to purge, on a continuous basis, properly collected information with respect to individuals that the agency has good reason to believe may be relevant on a continuing basis in the fulfillment of the agency's statutory responsibilities.
It is a short opinion, and worth a read. Sounds like a case of six degrees of separation.

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