WASHINGTON - US Attorney General Michael Mukasey has signed new guidelines for FBI operations he said are designed to better protect the country from terrorist attacks, but that raise concern of some lawmakers and civil rights groups.
"These guidelines provide more uniform, clearer and simpler rules for the FBI operations ... are designed to allow the FBI to become, among other things, a more flexible and adept collector of intelligence," Mukasey and FBI director Robert Mueller said in a statement Friday.
"Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI and the Department of Justice more broadly have set priorities for and reorganized their activities to prevent future terrorist acts against the American people," the statement said.
The new, revised regulations -- the original version met strong criticism from congressional committees last month, comprise 50 pages dealing with five areas of FBI investigation, including criminal, national security and foreign intelligence.
Mukasey said most of the new, streamlined rules "will be available to the public ... As a result, the general public will have access in a single document to the basic body of operating rules for the FBI's activities."
But despite Mukasey's assurances that the new regulations "reflect consultation with Congress as well as privacy and civil liberties groups," not all concerns over their effect on privacy rights were dispelled.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy said the new guidelines expand the FBI's powers of surveillance.
"It appears that with these guidelines, the attorney general is once again giving the FBI broad new powers to conduct surveillance and use other intrusive investigative techniques on Americans without requiring any indication of wrongdoing or any approval even from FBI supervisors," Leahy said in a statement.
"The American people deserve a vigilant Justice Department that does not sacrifice or endanger their rights and privacy," he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union, who had called for an investigation into the first version of the FBI regulations, said the new rules "reduce standards for beginning 'assessments.'"
"More troubling still," it added, "the guidelines allow a person's race or ethnic background to be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move that the ACLU believes may institute a racial profiling as a matter of policy."