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National Security Letters: A Note On Numbers

Michelle Richardson,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 12, 2012

A new article in Wired covers the evolution of the gag orders that come with national security letters (NSLs), secret FBI demands for your communication, internet, financial and credit records in terrorism investigations. As we wrote on Wednesday, the FBI is now notifying NSL recipients of their right to judicial review as a result of years of ACLU client litigation.

It is important to note that the numbers Wired uses in its article are only part of the picture. That article relies on public reports from the Department of Justice that only include information on NSLs that request the records of US persons. When the Justice Department’s Inspector General audited the full number of NSLs including non-US persons and NSLs that requests subscriber information only, the number shot up to 40 to 50,000 a year. You can see a full breakdown in infographic form here.

Speaking of audits, former DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine promised in 2010 to undertake NSL and Patriot Act 215 audits voluntarily, even though the statutory requirement to do so lapsed and Congress couldn’t pass a new directive to restart them. Where are they?

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