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US Senator Russ Feingold: On the FBI's Misuse of Its National Security Letter Authority

April 15, 2008
1:54 PM

CONTACT: US Senator Russ Feingold
Zach Lowe (202) 224-8657

On the FBI's Misuse of Its National Security Letter Authority

WASHINGTON, DC - April 15 - Today, the House Judiciary Committee will examine the issue of National Security Letters (NSLs) and next week the Senate Judiciary Committee will do the same. Last month, the Department of Justice released its second review of the FBI's use of NSLs, which identified continued misuse of the NSL authority. In advance of the hearings, Senator Russ Feingold, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and lead sponsor of the National Security Letter Reform Act said:

"The FBI's misuse of its National Security Letter authority has now been well documented in two Justice Department reports. These problems can be directly attributed to the USA Patriot Act, which gave the FBI a blank check to obtain sensitive information about innocent Americans without judicial oversight. While the FBI has taken some steps to address the situation, Congress can't just rely on the FBI to fix the problem we created. After sitting back year after year and audit after audit, Congress needs to place meaningful limits on the overbroad authority it granted in the Patriot Act, while still ensuring our government has the authority it needs to actively pursue suspected terrorists."

Feingold led a bipartisan group of senators including John Sununu (R-NH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Barack Obama (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) in introducing the legislation. The bill provides new statutory safeguards that allow the FBI to continue investigating terrorists and spies but also protect Americans' personal information.

Among the main provisions of the NSL Reform Act are:

Authorizing the use of National Security Letters to obtain certain less sensitive types of communications records, financial records, and credit report records without judicial review, but with new procedural safeguards to protect against abuse.

Requiring that the government make an individualized determination that each record sought with an NSL relates to someone with a connection to terrorism or espionage.

Placing a time limit on the gag order associated with each NSL, which could be extended by a court if the government demonstrates an extension is necessary and the First Amendment is satisfied.

Requiring that the FBI implement a program to ensure compliance with the NSL statutes and establish a tracking database for NSLs.

Establishing a standard of individualized suspicion for the issuance of business records orders under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Ensuring meaningful after-the-fact judicial review procedures for NSLs and Section 215 orders and the accompanying gag orders.

Preventing any future use of improper "exigent" letters identified by the 2007 Inspector General report.

The legislation has received the support of individuals and groups including:

o American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

o American Civil Liberties Union

o American Conservative Defense Alliance

o American Library Association

o American Policy Center

o Association of American Publishers

o Association of Research Libraries

o The Honorable Bob Barr, Former Member of Congress

o Bill of Rights Defense Committee

o Center for American Progress Action Fund

o Center for Democracy and Technology

o Center for National Security Studies

o Citizen Outreach

o Downsize DC

o Electronic Frontier Foundation

o David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union and Co-Chair of the Constitution Project's Liberty & Security Initiative

o League of Women Voters of the United States

o Liberty Coalition

o Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

o Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances

o PEN American Center

o Republican Liberty Caucus

o Rutherford Institute

o U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation


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