ACLU Tells FBI Its Privacy Guidelines Are Not Enough

July 9, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Today the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy groups met with FBI Director Robert Mueller to discuss the FBI’s new guidelines for internal controls concerning its use of National Security Letters (NSLs). In March, the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) issued a report detailing significant abuse of the FBI’s NSL powers. The FBI originally downplayed the extent of the abuse reported by the IG, alleging the number of cases selected for review in the IG audit did not constitute a representative sample. However, the FBI’s own audit revealed more than a thousand additional abuses using a sample of just ten percent of its national security investigations. The FBI has held a series of meetings to inform the civil rights and privacy community about its response to these revelations, but internal guidelines are clearly not enough to prevent this kind of abuse.

The following may be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“Though we appreciate Director Mueller’s continued outreach, these reforms are ‘too little, too late’ and we remain skeptical that any internal FBI regulation of NSL use will correct the problem. For more than three years the FBI’s unchecked use of its NSL powers resulted in thousands of violations of law and policy. FBI leadership was either unaware of these abuses or was informed of problems and did nothing to prevent them. Either way, it’s clear that the bureau requires outside oversight and a legislative solution is required.

“Unchecked authority will inevitably lead to abuse. The FBI, frankly, should never have been given this broad authority in the first place. When both the IG’s report and the bureau’s own internal investigation turn up rampant abuses, it’s painfully clear there needs to be an independent check on this power. It is naive to think those who break the rules should make the rules. Congress should begin imposing oversight and mandating judicial review of NSL use.”

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