Legislation Introduced to Curtail Patriot Act Abuse

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

Legislation Introduced to Curtail Patriot Act Abuse

New Legislation Will Rein in Overbroad National Security Letter Power

WASHINGTON - Congressmen
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced legislation
today to narrow the overbroad subpoena power in the National Security
Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act. The bipartisan bill, National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009,
aims to curb rampant abuse of that power by federal law enforcement
following the expansion of the Patriot Act and was introduced with 17
cosponsors. NSLs are secret subpoenas used to demand personal customer
records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and
credit companies without prior court approval.
 

"To
ensure that Americans' privacy and free speech rights are protected,
there must be clear oversight and strict guidelines tied to the use of
NSLs," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington
Legislative Office. "Mr. Nadler and Mr. Flake should be applauded for
taking this legislative step. Their bill will realign the current NSL
authority with the Constitution. Congress must take this opportunity to
rein in the power of the NSL."
 

NSLs
were originally crafted to gain information about suspected terrorists
but the Patriot Act expanded the statute to allow the subpoenas, which
are issued in secrecy, do not require court review, and contain a gag
order, to be used to obtain personal information about people who are
simply deemed "relevant" to an investigation. After the statute's
expansion, the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General
released a series of reports over the last several years outlining
systemic misuse and abuse of NSLs by FBI agents.
 

The
ACLU is asking that Congress repeal the expanded NSL authorities that
allow the FBI to demand information about innocent people who are not
the targets of any investigation and reinstate prior standards limiting
NSLs to information about terrorism suspects and other agents of
foreign powers. In December of 2008, as a result of an ACLU lawsuit,
the gag order provision was struck down as unconstitutional. The ACLU
is now advocating that Congress legislate a constitutional alternative.
The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009 would make these necessary changes.
 

"By
expanding the scope of the statute's power to collect information on
innocent people, the Patriot Act failed to protect Americans' privacy,"
said Michelle Richardson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "It has become
painfully clear that unchecked Patriot Act power inevitably leads to
abuse, and National Security Letters are no exception. Innocent
Americans have been swept into investigations and recipients have been
barred from speaking about it publicly. Representatives Nadler and
Flake should be praised for the introduction of this bill and we urge
swift action by Congress to assure its passage."    
 

Earlier
this month, the ACLU released a report entitled "Reclaiming Patriotism"
that describes the widespread abuses that have occurred under the USA
Patriot Act.
The report, authored by policy counsel Michael German and Richardson,
was delivered to congressional offices on Capitol Hill, as well as
posted to the newly re-launched site www.reformthepatriotact.org
in anticipation of the upcoming congressional debate surrounding three
Patriot Act provisions due to expire on December 31, 2009.
 

To learn more about the ACLU's work around NSLs, go to:
www.aclu.org/nsl

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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