30,000 National Security Letters Issued Annually Demanding Information about Americans: Patriot Act Removed Need for FBI to Connect Records to Suspected Terrorists

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
November 7, 2005 12:00 am

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All Recipients, Including ACLU Clients, Gagged in Perpetuity

NEW YORK – New information in recent news reports shows that 30,000 National Security Letters are issued by the government per year, a hundred-fold annual increase since the 2001 Patriot Act relaxed requirements on the FBI’s use of the power. Clients of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the federal statute in court, are gagged forever from speaking about their experiences. The ACLU has called on courts to strike down the provision and lift the gag orders, and has called on Congress to reform the Patriot Act to protect the personal records of ordinary Americans.

“”The FBI is taking advantage of the NSL provision expanded by the Patriot Act to demand information from tens of thousands of organizations including universities, Internet service providers, and organizations with library records,”” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. “”There is no requirement that suspicion be determined in a court of law, meaning that the letters can be issued without any court approval or review.””

According to the Washington Post, universities and casinos have received these letters and been forced to comply with the demands to turn over private student and customer information. Anyone who receives an NSL is gagged – forever – from telling anyone that the FBI demanded records, even if their identity has already been made public.

In New York and Connecticut, the ACLU has challenged the NSL provision that was dramatically expanded by Section 505 of the Patriot Act. The legislation amended the existing NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not connected to terrorism and who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The ACLU has asked the appeals court to uphold the two separate lower court rulings: one which found the NSL authority of the Patriot Act unconstitutional and another that struck down a gag imposed under the same statute.

“”The Patriot Act opened the floodgates for the government to use these sweeping powers in fishing expeditions,”” said Lisa Graves, a Legislative Counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “”As members of Congress reconcile competing bills to renew the Patriot Act, they must make sure the personal records of ordinary Americans are protected. The Patriot Act should be used to prevent terrorist attacks, not collect private data of people that haven’t been accused of any wrongdoing.””

Attorneys in the NSL cases are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the National ACLU, and Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU has created a special Web page on its National Security Letter litigation, which includes links to legal papers in both cases, online at www.aclu.org/nsl. Further information about what’s happening with the Patriot Act in Congress is available at www.reformthepatriotact.org.

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