The IT Law Wiki


As the primary investigative agency of the U.S. federal government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has the authority and to investigate all violations of federal law that are not exclusively assigned to another federal agency. The FBI is further vested by law and by Presidential directives with the primary role in carrying out criminal investigations and investigations of threats to the national security of the United States. This includes the lead domestic role in investigating international terrorist threats to the United States, and in conducting counterintelligence activities to counter foreign entities' espionage and intelligence efforts directed against the United States. The FBI is also vested with important functions in collecting foreign intelligence as a member agency of the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC).

The principal mission is to investigate criminal activity and defend the security of the United States. It has identified 10 priority enforcement areas, including cybercrime.[1] IP enforcement is included in the cybercrime area, but it is ranked 5th out of FBI’s 6 cybercrime priorities.[2]

Protection intellectual property[]

FBI conducts investigations of IP-related criminal activity, including infringement of trademark and copyright law, as well as theft of trade secrets. Within its IP enforcement efforts, FBI’s priorities are, in order, trade secret theft, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and signal theft, and one of FBI’s IP enforcement goals is for its field offices to initiate IP investigations that affect public health and safety.

FBI's Cyber Division oversees the agency’s IP enforcement efforts even though not all of its IP investigations are cyber-related. This division also conducts investigations of computer intrusions and child pornography.

IP-related investigations are primarily carried out in FBI’s 56 field offices.

Cybercrime enforcement[]

The FBI pursues cybercrime cases ranging from computer hacking and intellectual property rights violations to child exploitation, fraud, and identity theft. Its top priorities involve combating computer and network intrusions and investigating ransomware. While some of these cases may be significant cyber incidents, others may not. The FBI Cyber Division focuses on "high-level intrusions by state-sponsored hackers and global cyber syndicates, and the most prolific botnets." One key challenge, acknowledged by Administration officials and others, involves moving away from reacting to malicious cyber events and toward preventing them.

Cyber attack prevention is one of the main tenets of the FBI's Next Generation Cyber Initiative (NGC).

Intelligence activities[]

The FBI is an intelligence agency as well as a law enforcement agency. Since 9/11, the Bureau has taken what it describes as a more forward-leaning, intelligence-driven posture in its terrorism investigations in order to prevent or disrupt terrorist acts, not merely investigate them after they have occurred. The key intelligence functions of the FBI relate to counterterrorism and counterintelligence. In the wake of the September 2001 attacks, the FBI was strongly criticized for failing to focus on the terrorist threat, for failing to collect and strategically analyze intelligence, and for failing to share intelligence with other intelligence agencies (as well as among various FBI components).

Subsequently, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III introduced a number of reforms to create a better and more professional intelligence effort in an agency that has always emphasized law enforcement. The former mission has grown enormously in importance since September 2001, many new analysts have been hired, and the FBI has been reorganized in an attempt to ensure that intelligence functions are not subordinated to traditional law enforcement efforts. Most importantly, law enforcement information is now expected to be forwarded to other intelligence agencies for use in all-source products.

The FBI’s post-9/11 transformation is particularly evident in four areas: The USA PATRIOT Act provided the FBI additional authorities and enhanced investigative tools. The FBI and DOJ altered the way the agency investigated terrorism with the 2008 revision of "The Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations." The FBI expanded operationally via a proliferation of JTTFs across the United States. In so doing, it also increased its cooperation with state, local, and federal agencies. Finally, watershed changes were made in the Bureau’s intelligence program.


  1. As of 2006, FBI had 10 priority enforcement areas. The first 8 in order of importance are to: (1) protect the U.S. from terrorist attack; (2) protect the U.S. against foreign intelligence operations and espionage; (3) protect the U.S. against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes; (4) combat public corruption at all levels; (5) protect civil rights; (6) combat transnational and national criminal organizations and enterprises; (7) combat major white collar crime; and (8) combat significant violent crime. In addition, FBI aims to (9) support federal, state, local, and international partners; and (10) upgrade technology to successfully perform FBI’s mission.
  2. Cyber Division’s six priorities are, in order of importance: (1) computer intrusions involving counterterrorism, (2) computer intrusions involving counterintelligence, (3) other computer intrusions, (4) innocent images (child pornography), (5) IP enforcement, and (6) Internet fraud. In April 2006, the Cyber Division lowered the priority of IP enforcement to 5th rank and elevated the priority of child pornography to 4th rank. Despite this decrease in stated priority, Cyber Division officials said that IP investigations remain a major focus of their program, particularly investigations targeting health and safety issues.


See also[]