In the wake of political spying abuses documented by the Church Committee in the mid 1970s, such as the surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights and anti-war activists, the Attorney General (AG) set guidelines that governed FBI investigations. First adopted in 1976 by AG Edward Levi, these guidelines have been changed several times since, including by AG William French Smith in 1983 and AG Richard Thornburgh in 1989.
The guidelines outline when the FBI may open investigations of individuals and groups, and were originally intended to prevent the FBI from spying on lawful political and religious activities and groups.
In 2002, in the wake of 9/11, AG John Ashcroft again weakened the guidelines’ protections against abuse. These changes, combined with those made by AG Michael Mukasey in 2008, drastically weakened the protections against the FBI’s spying on Americans’political and other First Amendment-protected activities.
For more information on the guidelines, please see FBI Guidelines Resources.