A new report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) “has found pervasive errors in the FBI’s use of its power to secretly demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases.” “The inspector general’s audit found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations — some of which were potential violations of law — in a sampling of 293 ‘national security letters (NSLs).'” (The Patriot Act gave FBI agents the right to “demand telephone, bank, credit card and library records by issuing” NSLs, “bypassing the need to seek a warrant from a federal judge.”) “In nearly a quarter of the case files” IG Glenn Fine reviewed, “he found previously unreported potential violations.” The report also found that in 2005, the FBI issued over 19,000 NSLs, “amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information.” Some agents issued these letters “without citing an authorized investigation, claimed ‘exigent’ circumstances that did not exist in demanding information and did not have adequate documentation to justify the issuance of letters.” “In an unknown number of other cases, third parties such as telephone companies, banks and Internet providers responded to national security letters with detailed personal information about customers that the letters do not permit to be released.” “Expect a weekend firestorm,” one Justice Department official said of the report. Ironically, on the same day of the report’s release, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will “deliver keynote remarks before the International Association of Privacy Professionals.”
Remember when John Ashcroft assured us that the Patriot Act wouldn’t be used to access library records? Raw Story has a nice piece that explains how the government kept the truth quiet until the Patriot Act was reauthorized.
[Connecticut] Librarians, members of Library Connection, a not-for profit cooperative organization for resource sharing across 26 Connecticut library branches sharing a centralized computer, were served with a National Security Letter (NSL) in August of last year as part of the FBI’s attempt to attain access to patron’s records. …
On September 9 of last year, a federal judge lifted the gag order and rejected the government’s argument that identifying the plaintiff would pose a threat to national security.
Yet the government continued to appeal the case throughout the reauthorization debate, passionately arguing that not a single incident of civil liberties violations by the Patriot Act had occurred. By continuing the appeal, the government effectively silenced any evidence to counter their claims.
“This all happened during the reauthorization debate and the government was saying no one’s rights were being violated,” said George Christian, staff liaison for Library Connection and one of the plaintiffs in the case.
As the debate over the reauthorization of the Patriot Act heated up, the librarians and others gagged by the NSL had to watch in silence, intimately aware of dangers they believed were not being exposed.
“We could not speak to Congress until after the renewal of the Patriot Act,” Said Barbara Bailey, President of Library Connection and one of four plaintiffs in the case.
Although the ACLU, representing the librarians, filed the case on August 9 of last year, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decried any civil liberties violations in a Washington Post op-ed in December, stating that “There have been no verified civil liberties abuses in the four years of the [Patriot] act’s existence.”
Attorney General Gonzales may be incapable of recognizing a civil liberties abuse. The librarians understand that the government shouldn’t be snooping into library records without a warrant.
“People ask about private and confidential things in the library setting… like about their health, their family issues and related books they take out … these are confidential and we did this to protect our patrons from unauthorized snooping,” said Peter Chase, Vice President of Library Connection.