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FBI investigators believe targeting of groups by IRS not a crime

WASHINGTON — FBI investigators do not believe Internal Revenue Service officials committed crimes in the unusually heavy scrutiny of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, a law enforcement official said Monday.

Prosecutors for the Justice Department who have been overseeing the case have not made a decision about whether to file charges against the officials — although that would seem unlikely given the FBI investigators’ conclusion, according to the official, speaking anonymously because he could not talk on the record about a continuing investigation.

Despite an admission by the IRS that it inappropriately targeted conservative groups, by searching for groups with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriots” in their names, many legal experts and law enforcement officials say they do not believe that the scrutiny broke the law.

Some members of Congress had called for the Justice Department to investigate the tax-collecting agency. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report Monday that criminal charges were unlikely.

IRS documents show the agency gave the same scrutiny to some liberal groups, using the key words “Progressive” and “Occupy.”

—Michael S. Schmidt, The New York Times

Obama to place some restraints on surveillance

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will issue new guidelines on Friday to curtail government surveillance, but will not embrace the most far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and will ask Congress to decide some of the toughest issues, according to people briefed on his thinking.

Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court.

But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line that will placate civil liberties advocates without a backlash from national security agencies.

The result seems to be a speech that leaves in place many current programs, but embraces the spirit of reform and keeps the door open to further changes later.

The decision to provide additional privacy protections for non-Americans or residents, for instance, largely codify existing practices but will be followed by a 180-day study by the director of national intelligence about whether to go further. Likewise, instead of taking the storage of bulk data out of government hands, as recommended by a review panel he appointed, Obama will leave it in place for now and ask lawmakers to weigh in.

The blend of decisions, to be outlined in a speech at the Justice Department and in a presidential guidelines memorandum, will be Obama’s highest profile response to the disclosures about the National Security Agency made in recent months by Edward J. Snowden, a former NSA contractor who has fled to Russia.

But as intelligence officials have sorted through Obama’s evolving position, they have been divided about how significant his adjustments will be.

—Peter Baker and Charlie Savage, The New York Times