For Immediate Release
FBI Testifies Before House on National Security Letters
WASHINGTON - The FBI's general counsel and the Justice Department Inspector
General (IG) testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on
the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on the most recent
IG report on the FBI's use of National Security Letters (NSLs). NSLs
allow the FBI to secretly demand personal records about innocent
customers from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), communications service
providers, libraries, financial institutions and credit reporting
agencies without suspicion or prior judicial approval. The FBI can then
bar recipients of NSLs from disclosing anything about the records
In January, the IG released a report on the FBI's use of "exigent
letters," or emergency letters, to gain private records for
investigations when no emergency existed. The FBI routinely issued NSLs
after the fact in an attempt to legitimize the use of exigent letters.
Today, the IG testified on the extent of the abuse of exigent letters
and "other informal requests for telephone records."
The NSL statute was greatly expanded under the Patriot Act,
passed hastily by Congress in the days following 9/11. After the
statute's expansion, the IG's office released a series of reports over
the last several years, including its January report, outlining systemic
misuse and abuse of NSLs by FBI agents. Late last year, to avoid
expiration on December 31, 2009, Congress extended three provisions of
the Patriot Act through February 28, 2010. Despite bills pending in both
the House and the Senate to amend the expiring provisions, as well as
the NSL provision, Congress decided instead to move ahead with a
straightforward reauthorization in late February.
The following can be attributed to Laura W.
Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Washington Legislative
"It has become painfully clear that unchecked Patriot Act power
will inevitably lead to abuse, and National Security Letters are a
poignant example. To ensure that our privacy and free speech rights are
protected, there must be clear oversight and strict guidelines tied to
their use. Innocent Americans have been swept into investigations and
recipients have been barred from speaking about it publicly.
"Not only that, report after report from the FBI's own Inspector
General illustrates the blatant and systemic abuse of national security
letters. Congress has less than a year before it must address the
Patriot Act again. NSL reform must be made a priority this year instead
of being kicked further down the road."
The ACLU Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a
lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of an ISP that received an NSL, challenging
the FBI's authority to demand records through NSLs and to gag NSL
recipients. A federal appeals court ruled in 2008 that parts of the NSL
statute's gag provisions were unconstitutional and sent the case back to
the lower court to decide whether the gag on the ISP could stand. In
October 2009, a federal court ruled that the government can continue to
enforce the now six-year-old gag order on the ISP even though the FBI
abandoned its request for records several years ago.
To learn more about the
ACLU's work on the Patriot Act, go to: www.reformthepatriotact.org
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.