Jewish groups debate FBI surveillance guide 
                                SHARON SAMBER 
                           Jewish Telegraphic Agency
            WASHINGTON -- NEW FBI guidelines that give the agency greater
       leeway in monitoring Americans' everyday lives have Jewish groups
       debating how far personal freedoms can be pushed in the war on
            The FBI announced new surveillance guidelines last week that
       the Bush administration says will help prevent terrorism. The
       Jewish community generally supports the need to change law
       enforcement and intelligence methods following the Sept. 11 terror
       attacks, but is concerned over how civil liberties will be
            The guidelines will allow the FBI greater flexibility to
       monitor Internet sites, libraries, houses of worship and political
       organizations and will lower the evidentiary threshold needed to
       initiate investigations.
            In recent years, the Anti-Defamation League has called for
       giving law enforcement additional tools. The ADL and most other
       Jewish groups gave strong support to anti-terrorism laws in 1996
       and last year's USA Patriot Act, which gave new powers to domestic
       law enforcement and intelligence agencies after Sept. 11.
            "The movement from simply enforcing the law to preventing
       terrorism is necessary," said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel
       for the ADL.
            For some people, however, talk of increased domestic
       surveillance conjures up disturbing memories of the McCarthy era
       and the alleged abuses of power when J. Edgar Hoover led the FBI.
            Law enforcement excesses in the 1950s and 1960s led to revised
       guidelines in the 1970s. Jewish and civil liberties groups embraced
       the reforms, as well as subsequent adaptations over the years.
            Attorney General John Ashcroft said that new powers are needed
       now to combat terrorism effectively, adding that these guidelines
       would not allow for the kind of abuses seen in the past.
            Many groups have faulted the FBI for taking an overly cautious
       approach in recent years.
            ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, wrote in 1999 that
       the Justice Department and the FBI could not act aggressively
       because they were "hamstrung" by the Hoover legacy, fears of
       lawsuits and concerns from conservative lawmakers after the 1993
       Waco debacle.
            The current guidelines, however, are "way too broad," argues
       Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of
       Reform Judaism.
            Saperstein recalled that the Reform movement was watched by
       the FBI several decades ago and that his organization has worked to
       stop such abuses against other civil liberties groups.
            The Religious Action Center, which also argued that the USA
       Patriot Act was rushed through Congress, is calling for public
       hearings on Capitol Hill to ensure that the new FBI guidelines are
       finely focused on preventing terrorism and are implemented in a way
       that ensures the least amount of infringement on civil rights.
            Some lawmakers are already sounding off about the new
            "I believe that the Justice Department has gone too far," Rep.
       James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said last week. There is no need "to
       throw respect for civil liberties into the trash heap" in order to
       improve the FBI's ability to fight terrorism.
            Some civil rights groups are up in arms over the FBI's
       expanded powers. Jewish rights groups, however, are often
       especially sensitive to terrorism issues, and occasionally part
       company with their regular allies on this issue.
            The American Civil Liberties Union said that Ashcroft's
       decision to rewrite longstanding restrictions on domestic spying
       "threatens core civil liberties guaranteed under the Constitution
       and Bill of Rights."
            While the Religious Action Center raises some similar
       concerns, it is reserving judgment on the guidelines. The ADL is
       willing to take a firmer stance in favor of the new guidelines,
       though Foxman notes that any new enforcement power has to be
       subject to governmental accountability.
            The guidelines themselves are not really the issue, according
       to Steven Pomerantz, a former assistant director of the FBI who now
       is a senior adviser on counterterrorism and security for the
       American Jewish Committee.
            The guidelines need to be tweaked, Pomerantz said, but the
       political climate is also important in determining the FBI's
       behavior. While certain investigations might have been allowed even
       under the old guidelines, the threshold for proceeding with an
       investigation depends on other factors.
            "It's not black and white, it's subject to interpretation."