On Tuesday, December 2, the Harvard Law School Forum sponsored a lecture by Valerie Caproni, General Counsel to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Caproni, a life-long prosecutor who was described by Professor Alex Whiting as having a “fierce reputation” as an attorney, was appointed to her current position in 2003. During the lecture, she introduced the audience to the new Attorney General Guidelines for the FBI.
The guidelines, which are designed to consolidate six sets of procedures that previously guided the FBI in various types of investigations—most notably criminal and anti-terrorism investigations—have encountered mixed reaction. “Depending on what newspapers you read,” Caproni said, “these are either the greatest thing since sliced bread or they are the worst threat to privacy and civil liberties since J. Edgar Hoover.”
Caproni described not only what the new guidelines entail, but how they will affect the way the FBI does its job. Rather than endorsing a particular view of the guidelines, Caproni instead gave an overview of how they were developed. The FBI consulted with multiple interest groups, including Congressional oversight committees, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Arab-American rights groups, among others.
Caproni also described opponents’ views. Some critics are particularly concerned about the powers granted to the FBI at the “pre-investigation level,” arguing that the bureau’s expanded ability to question suspects and otherwise gather information will lead to profiling and other civil liberties violations.
Caproni pointed out that the FBI, as an intelligence agency, needs the new guidelines to do its job “pro-actively,” and she used several hypothetical scenarios to illustrate her point. She also described the additional oversight procedures that the FBI has implemented to control the use of the new guidelines, and explained that the policy will be up for review again in just a year.
“We at the Bureau understand that there was a fair amount of anxiety about these new guidelines,” Caproni said in conclusion. “We hope that we have set the policies in a way that appropriately balance privacy and civil liberties on the one hand with our need to protect against criminal activity and national security threats on the other, but we also recognize that this is a little bit of a brave new world for us.”
For full audio of the lecture, click here.