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FBI: Breaking Its Own Rules...Again

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August 11, 2008

Late Friday, FBI Director Robert Mueller called the executive editors of the Washington Post and New York Times to apologize for improperly collecting the phone records of four reporters in the papers’ Indonesia bureaus in 2004 as part of a “terrorism investigation.” Collection of such information has to be approved by the deputy attorney general…but the FBI decided to skip that step and just did it anyway.

The New York Times reports:

F.B.I. officials said the incident came to light as part of the continuing review by the Justice Department inspector general’s office into the bureau’s improper collection of telephone records through “emergency” records demands issued to phone providers.

This record collection joins a litany of FBI abuses which first came to light in March, when the Inspector General (IG) released a report (PDF) that found that the bureau has been abusing its use of National Security Letters (NSLs); they issued 200,000 NSL requests between 2003 and 2006. An IG report from March 2007 (PDF) found “instances of illegal or improper use of national security letters.”

Pending before Congress are two bills, brought by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to narrow the scope of the FBI’s NSL authority. The ACLU supports both S. 2088 and H.R. 3189, and we’re hoping both bills will move through Congress this fall, when the IG’s next report on the FBI is due.

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