Congress Begins Oversight Hearings on FBI NSL Abuses; ACLU Urges Lawmakers to Demand Truth, Fix Patriot Act

March 20, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the House Judiciary Committee convened an oversight hearing today on the Justice Department Inspector General’s audit that found the FBI has abused and misused its National Security Letter authority, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to demand truth and accountability from the administration. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a similar hearing on Wednesday.

“The IG report confirmed our worst fears about the Patriot Act,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “FBI agents, whatever their intentions, misused and abused the NSL power at the expense of our fundamental freedoms. This is clear evidence that the Patriot Act must be fixed and brought in line with the Constitution. We applaud those Members of Congress willing to demand the truth and urge lawmakers to restore our civil liberties.”

On March 9, 2007, as mandated by law, the Justice Department’s IG issued a report that found the FBI had issued significantly more NSLs than previously disclosed. The audit found serious breaches of the Attorney General’s Guidelines, FBI policy, and numerous violations of the law. It also criticized the FBI for lax managerial controls that invited abuse, and found that agents had claimed “exigent circumstances” where none existed. The FBI also retained records even when some NSL recipients provided more information than authorized by law.

The NSL authority, vastly expanded by the Patriot Act, authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, such as the identity of a person who has visited a particular website on a library computer or who has engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. Recipients of NSLs are gagged from discussing them.

The ACLU has challenged the NSL power in court with two cases: one involving an Internet Service Provider; the second a group of librarians. In both cases, the judges ruled that the gag orders were unconstitutional. After those rulings Congress amended the law to fix some problems, but made the “gag” provision even more oppressive. The ACLU has now gone back to court to challenge the constitutionality of the amended law. Also today, the ACLU has submitted testimony on the IG report to the House Judiciary Committee.

“As a former FBI special agent, I was sworn to uphold the Constitution; sadly, today’s FBI leadership seems to have forgotten that solemn obligation,” said Michael German, an ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “Its clear that this administration cannot be trusted with the overreaching powers of the Patriot Act. Innocent Americans should not have their civil liberties and privacy rights undermined.”

The ACLU’s testimony on the IG report is available at:


More about the ACLU’s work on NSLs, including information on the IG report and our legal challenges is available at:

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