National Security Letters by the Numbers

March 19, 2007
On the one-year anniversary of the PATRIOT Act’s reauthorization, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report finding that the FBI has abused its authority to issue National Security Letters (NSLs).  NSLs are issued by the FBI, not a judge, to obtain telephone, computer, credit and banking information. The only statutory requirement limiting the FBI’s use of NSL is that the NSLs must be “relevant” to an investigation.  As the IG’s report made clear, the FBI has been using NSLs to gather information about hundreds of thousands of people including tens of thousands of citizens, not just a few suspected terrorists.

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143,074: The number of requests for information from 2003 - 2005.  Approximately half concerned U.S. persons.

0: The amount of information obtained by use of NSLs that the law currently requires to be destroyed – even after the information is determined to concern innocent Americans.

3,000:  The number of different telephone numbers that the FBI requested information on, and telecommunications companies turned over, in false emergencies under so-called “exigent” circumstances, in the complete absence of any legal authority.

34,000: The number of law enforcement and intelligence agents who have unfettered, virtually limitless access to phone records collected through NSLs. 

11,100: The number of different phone numbers whose subscriber information was turned over to the FBI in response to only nine NSLs. 

43:  The number of confirmed criminal referrals made to prosecutors from the FBI after it obtained information through a NSL.  (19 involved fraud, 17 were immigration-related and 17 were for money laundering.)

1:  The number of terror-related convictions the Inspector General was able to confirm (material support) stemming from the 143,074 persons’ info that was collected through NSLs.

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