ACLU Slams FBI Privacy Violations

March 5, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – In testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed the misuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) – which allow for the collection of personal information without court approval – to secure Americans’ personal information during FBI investigations. A report from the Office of the Inspector General on the FBI’s use of NSLs is expected soon, though it was due in December of last year.

"When it comes to NSLs, there are laws and there are internal guidelines – the FBI ignored both," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI agent. "New guidelines have been introduced, but last year’s IG report makes clear that internal guidelines are meaningless to the FBI. It’s becoming more and more obvious that outside oversight is essential since the Bureau’s learning curve is sadly unimpressive. Instituting judicial oversight would guarantee that someone would be looking over the shoulder of agents using a tool as invasive as an NSL. Members of Congress also have the power to narrow the scope of the NSL statute and they should use it – especially when the data collected is being stored and not destroyed. We’re looking forward to seeing the IG’s upcoming report. Hopefully it will be the wake up call that Congress needs."

The ACLU has successfully challenged the NSL power in two separate lawsuits. In one case, involving an Internet Service Provider, a federal court in September struck down the NSL gag provisions as unconstitutional. The government is currently appealing the decision.

"The excessive secrecy surrounding the FBI’s use of NSLs opens the door to abuse," said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Because the NSL statute grants the FBI practically unfettered power to gag NSL recipients, the public remains woefully uninformed about how the FBI is using this intrusive surveillance power. Notably, the ACLU represents an NSL recipient who has been gagged for more than four years and who has been unable to speak up and participate in the public debate about the NSL power."

To read more about the ACLU’s work on NSLs, go to:

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