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The FBI is finally going to start recording suspect interviews
May 22, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Did you know the FBI hasn't been recording its interviews with suspects?
Neither did I, but a national story this morning said FBI agents are finally going to start making electronic recordings of their interviews, except when it jeopardizes national security. According to NPR at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/05/21/314616254/new-doj-policy-calls-for-videotaping-the-questioning-of-suspects, the standard practice – even in 2014 – has been not to record interviews. Instead, according to the AP, the FBI agent to interview the suspect, take notes and then write up a report with a summary of what happened.
That sounds like a perfect way for certain things to get "lost in translation" on the way to the courtroom or to never get recorded at all. If the suspect and the FBI agent have two different versions of events, whom do you think the judge and the jury are likely to believe? In the interest of justice and just plain accuracy, tape-recorded interviews ought to have been standard by the 1950s or 1960s. I suppose in the age of J. Edgar Hoover that was probably about as unlikely as Hades freezing over.
Still, this might well be a sign that the FBI knows something the rest of us don't about the National Security Agency and its domestic spying and the general insecurity of the Internet. So do the Russians. Last summer, it was reported that the Kremlin has been buying up electric typewriters for its security officials. The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the typewriters are used to type up sensitive reports that are presented to the big cheese, Vladimir Putin. Russians have probably gotten an earful from Edward Snowden about just how extensive the NSA's spying has been and they're taking no chances. One account about the Russian typewriters can be found here: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/11/us_spying_government_leaks_send_russian_security_back_to_pre_digital_age
Most indications are that the NSA's spying on ordinary citizens is even more intrusive than we currently know. In a surveillance state, the only way to maintain a modicum of privacy might be to go old school and invest in a pen and paper and a typewriter or to hand-deliver important letters privately instead of trusting them to the U.S. Postal Service.
But I don't think the FBI ought to be allowed to do any of the above, not when a suspect's freedom is on the line. All government agencies, from the FBI to local police to social service agencies, ought to be required to make recordings when they do interviews and those recordings ought to be made available to suspects and to their attorneys.
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