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FBI abusing Patriot Act .. shock horror

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    FBI abusing Patriot Act .. shock horror

    The Department of Justice Inspector General issued a report last week detailing the FBI's misuse of national security letters to collect information about innocent Americans without any connection to terrorism.

    A national security letter, or NSL, is a special request for records that (unlike a search warrant) is never seen by a judge. Under the expanded powers granted by the USA Patriot Act, any FBI field supervisor can lawfully issue an NSL and serve it on libraries, telephone companies and businesses to get records on anyone in the country. All that's required is an FBI certification that that the records are "sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." There is no judicial or Department of Justice review, and the agency can keep the information it obtains forever.

    With power like that, you wouldn't think that the FBI could push the envelope even further. But it has.

    The IG's report (.pdf) details a host of errors and violations in connection with the issuance of NSLs. Out of a sample of 293 of the nearly 19,000 letters, covering 47,000 separate requests for information in 2005, the IG found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations.

    Agents used NSLs without citing an authorized investigation and claimed "exigent" circumstances that did not exist. In two cases, the FBI obtained full credit reports they should not have been allowed to have. In other cases, telephone companies, banks and internet providers improperly responded to national security letters with detailed personal information about customers, and the FBI kept that information.

    Perhaps the biggest issue is that the FBI and Justice Department didn't keep track of how many letters they issued, as the law requires, or document the reasons why they issued them. They didn't turn accurate information over to Congress, leaving lawmakers and the American public with a grossly incomplete picture of what's really going on.

    While FBI head Robert Mueller and attorney general Alberto Gonzales are responsible for the NSL problems overall, responsibility for failing to tell Congress the truth falls squarely on shoulders of the president.

    When Congress reauthorized the NSL provision of the USA Patriot Act, it required the Department of Justice to report statistical data on the use of NSLs. The Bush administration not only opposed this reporting requirement, but when Bush signed the reauthorization into law, he issued a signing statement indicating he did not believe the administration was bound by the reporting requirement.

    Bush pressed for the law; Bush opposed the reporting requirement; Bush stated that he would not necessarily follow the reporting requirement after Congress imposed it. If the president doesn't take reporting seriously, why would regional offices do so?

    It has been a refreshing surprise to see Democratic and Republican senators alike suggest that Gonzales, who runs the DOJ and oversees the FBI, should step down. Congress now promises "extensive hearings" on the NSL problems, and is making some noises about repealing expanded NSL authority granted by the USA Patriot Act.

    In response, the administration and pro-surveillance pundits have tried to minimize the problem as a procedural one within the Bureau, while lauding the importance of the letters in terrorism and spy cases. Their position is based on myths that recent history and the new report debunk.

    Myth: The problems are only procedural record keeping and reporting issues, not intentional or criminal misuse.

    Fact: The record-keeping and reporting problems prevent us from seeing the full picture of abuse. The law only requires reporting overall statistics, and the FBI agencies failed to do even that properly. But what
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    If you’re fat stay in the ruck - Liam Toland

    no surprise
    The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.
    - Salvador Dali (1904-1989)


      Everytime I read the "Patriot Act", I have to laugh. Why didn't they just call it the "Vote for This, or You're a Terrorist Lover" Act.
      Munster - Incessant Perfervidity
      "Ireland Will Choke" - Jeremy Guscott


        In terms of personal freedom and liberty, America is becoming more and more like the old Soviet Union by the day. Not aspleasant a place to visit anymore either, insofar as dis-trust of foreigners is now seen as a patriotic duty by those keen to whip up fear and encourage insular thinking.