Update: This action alert has expired. The use of National Security Letters was included in the Intelligence Appropriations that passed Congress.
Congress is very close to giving government law enforcement agents even broader power to force businesses to turn over sensitive private information about their customers without any judicial review.
Government agents can currently use secret national security letters (NSLs) to force financial institutions to disclose sensitive information about their customers without any judicial review or oversight. In fact, due to Section 505 of the infamous USA PATRIOT Act, NSLs no longer require any individual suspicion that the person whose records are sought is involved with terrorism, espionage or other criminal activities.
Unfortunately Congress is currently planning to expand the applicability of these secret searches. Under the current proposed version of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2003 (H.R. 2417/S. 1025), NSLs could be used for a whole host of businesses and other institutions, including travel agencies, pawnbrokers, car dealerships, stockbrokers, the post office, casinos, or any other business ""whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters.""
The bill would allow government agents, such as the FBI, to access your personal travel records, stock trades or personal purchases without any suspicion that you were involved in a crime. It would also allow the government to hide this investigation from you indefinitely -- and do all of this without any court oversight.
Take Action! Urge your Members of Congress to protect your privacy and ensure proper judicial review.
This new power will not give law enforcement access to new, critical information.
The government can already obtain this information through criminal subpoenas or with an order for business records from the secret FISA court under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The only thing the current bill accomplishes is the removal of all judicial oversight and the transfer of more power into the hands of law enforcement agents.
National security letters allow the government to investigate innocent individuals.
In most court-approved investigations, the government needs to have suspicion that an individual is involved with a crime. With the use of NSLs, the government can embark on large-scale investigations - or fishing expeditions -- of people for whom they have no evidence or suspicion are involved in a crime.
This bill allows government agents to operate in secret indefinitely.
A business or other institution that receives an NSL must turn over the records, and may not inform their customers that the government is seeking their records. As a result of this secrecy, most Americans would never know that the government has obtained their personal records.