ACLU Applauds Harman Bill to Rein in Power Abused by FBI, Follows House Panel’s Questions Regarding National Security Letters

March 28, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, for introducing legislation to rein in the National Security Letter authority expanded by the Patriot Act. Her move follows a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing where members grilled government witnesses on the recent revelations that the FBI abused the NSL authority.

“The Harman bill would help put an end to the abuse of the NSL authority,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Today’s hearing shows that we have a broken system-and Congress needs to provide the fix. The FBI cannot be trusted with the unchecked power of NSLs.”

At today’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, Democratic and Republican members alike asked tough questions of the government witnesses. The ACLU noted that many of the questions indicate that lawmakers believe the law regarding NSLs should be changed.

Congresswoman Harman introduced one such measure today. Her “National Security Letter Judicial and Congressional Oversight Act,” would require a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge or designated United States Magistrate Judge to approve the issuance of an NSL. It would also require the attorney general to submit semiannual reports on NSLs to Congress.

“It’s crystal clear that the FBI and Justice Department have abused the NSL authority and they cannot get away with simply saying ‘we’ll do better in the future,’” said Timothy D. Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The IG’s findings are clear evidence that the FBI’s leadership turned a blind eye to a pattern of willful indifference to the law and Congress needs to put proper checks and balances into the vast NSL power. The Constitution and our laws are not merely advisory, but this administration has treated them as such.”

More about the ACLU’s work on NSLs is available at:

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