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Legal authority
The FBI's mandate is established in Title 28 of the United States Code (U.S. Code), Section 533, which authorizes the Attorney General to "appoint officials to detect and prosecute crimes against the United States." Other federal statutes give the FBI the authority and responsibility to investigate specific crimes.

The FBI's chief tool against organized crime is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The FBI is also charged with the responsibility of enforcing compliance of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 and investigating violations of the act in addition to prosecuting such violations with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The FBI also shares concurrent jurisdiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The USA PATRIOT Act increased the powers allotted to the FBI, especially in wiretapping and monitoring of Internet activity. One of the most controversial provisions of the act is the so-called sneak and peek provision, granting the FBI powers to search a house while the residents are away, and not requiring them to notify the residents for several weeks afterwards. Under the PATRIOT Act's provisions, the FBI also resumed inquiring into the library records  of those who are suspected of terrorism (something it had supposedly not done since the 1970s).

In the early 1980s, Senate hearings were held to examine FBI undercover operations in the wake of the Abscam controversy, which had allegations of entrapment of elected officials. As a result, in following years a number of guidelines were issued to constrain FBI activities.

A March 2007 report by the inspector general of the Justice Department described the FBI's "widespread and serious misuse" of national security letters, a form of administrative subpoena used to demand records and data pertaining to individuals. The report said that between 2003 and 2005, the FBI had issued more than 140,000 national security letters, many involving people with no obvious connections to terrorism.

Information obtained through an FBI investigation is presented to the appropriate U.S. Attorney or Department of Justice official, who decides if prosecution or other action is warranted.

The FBI often works in conjunction with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in seaport and airport security, and the National Transportation Safety Board in investigating airplane crashes and other critical incidents. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) has nearly the same amount of investigative manpower as the FBI, and investigates the largest range of crimes. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, then–Attorney General Ashcroft assigned the FBI as the designated lead organization in terrorism investigations after the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE-HSI and the FBI are both integral members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Indian reservations
The federal government has the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting serious crime on Indian reservations.

There are 565 federally recognized American Indian Tribes in the United States, and the FBI has federal law enforcement responsibility on nearly 200 Indian reservations. This federal jurisdiction is shared concurrently with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS).

Located within the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division, the Indian Country Crimes Unit (ICCU) is responsible for developing and implementing strategies, programs, and policies to address identified crime problems in Indian Country (IC) for which the FBI has responsibility.

— Overview, Indian Country Crime
The FBI does not specifically list crimes in Native American land as one of its priorities. Often serious crimes have been either poorly investigated or prosecution has been declined. Tribal courts can impose sentences of up to three years, under certain restrictions

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