12 Questions Congress Needs to Ask the Administration About the FBI's Abuse of National Security Letters

March 19, 2007
A report issued by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General on March, 9, 2007 found wide-spread abuses of the DOJ’s authority to issue National Security Letters when conducting an investigation.  The IG-documented abuses make clear that the NSL powers need to be restricted and raise 10 critically important questions that Congress needs to have answered, such as:

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1. Why doesn’t DOJ destroy information (i) wrongly collected on innocent Americans, or (ii) illegally gathered?

2. Who has access to the information of innocent Americans’ after it is entered into the databases identified by the Inspector General?  What are the limits to how information may be used?

3. Why is the FBI issuing so-called “exigent letters” that immediately request phone call information – when there is no emergency – without any statutory authority to do so?

4. How much were the three telecommunications companies paid for their “contract” with the government to turn over phone records absent a lawful request to do so?

5. Why is the government issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) to conduct fishing expeditions – or as the IG put it, to “access NSL information about parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections?”

6. What databases of information did the FBI obtain when it accessed over 11,000 phone numbers with only nine NSLs?

7. Why did only one terrorism (material support) prosecution result from the NSLs the FBI used to gather private information on 143,074 people when NSLs are described as the FBI’s “bread and butter” investigative technique?

8. Who is going to be held responsible for the wholesale violation of American privacy laws?

9. As high-ranking law enforcement officials, aren’t the FBI officials who committed these offenses guilty of breaking the law, whether intentional or not?

10. In light of how the FBI exceeded their authority to collect vast amounts of data on innocent American citizens, why shouldn’t Congress limit their use to solely investigating suspected terrorists?

11. How much time and resources were wasted on collecting information on innocent people that could have spent on proven, lawful intelligence activities, particularly in light of the lone terrorism prosecution that resulted?

12. To what extent did the NSL statute's gag provisions -- provisions that allow the FBI to throw a blanket of secrecy over its use of NSLs -- contribute to the FBI's ability to abuse the law?  And was secrecy truly warranted with respect to all 140,000 demands issued by the FBI, or was the FBI using the gag provisions as a means of concealing abuse and protecting the agency from public oversight?
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