Saturday, June 18, 2011

F.B.I. Giving Agents New Powers in Revised Manual

Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four seems more prophetic than ever. Source: NYTimes.com

The F.B.I. is giving significant new powers to its agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention. The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.

The F.B.I. recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.

“Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse,” Mr. German said, pointing to complaints about the bureau’s surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general’s findings in 2007 that the F.B.I. had frequently misused “national security letters,” which allow agents to obtain information like phone records without a court order.

Valerie E. Caproni, the F.B.I. general counsel, said the bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur. Ms. Caproni said it was too cumbersome to require agents to open formal inquiries before running quick checks. She also said agents could not put information uncovered from such searches into F.B.I. files unless they later opened an assessment.

The new rules will also relax a restriction on administering lie-detector tests and searching people’s trash. Under current rules, agents cannot use such techniques until they open a “preliminary investigation,” which —unlike an assessment —requires a factual basis for suspecting someone of wrongdoing.

This is a Suspicious News Bried. Read more at NYTimes.com.
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Far out: Magic mushrooms could have medical benefits, researchers say

Source: Yahoo! News

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been studying the effects of psilocybin, a chemical found in some psychedelic mushrooms, that's credited with inducing transcendental states. Now, they say, they've zeroed in on the perfect dosage level to produce transformative mystical and spiritual experiences that offer long-lasting life-changing benefits, while carrying little risk of negative reactions.

The breakthrough could speed the day when doctors use psilocybin--long viewed skeptically for its association with 1960s countercultural thrill-seekers--for a range of valuable clinical functions, like easing the anxiety of terminally ill patients, treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and helping smokers quit. Already, studies in which depressed cancer patients were given the drug have reported positive results. "I'm not afraid to die anymore" one participant told The Lookout.

The Johns Hopkins study--whose results will be published this week in the journal Psychopharmacology--involved giving healthy volunteers varying doses of psilocybin in a controlled and supportive setting, over four separate sessions. Looking back more than a year later, 94 percent of participants rated it as one of the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lifetimes.

More important, 89 percent reported lasting, positive changes in their behavior--better relationships with others, for instance, or increased care for their own mental and physical well-being. Those assessments were corroborated by family members and others.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at Yahoo! News.
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