FBI Misuse of Investigative Authority Highlights Need for Judicial Review
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WASHINGTON -- The FBI's frequent misuse of so-called "National Security Letters" to obtain sensitive information about Americans without judicial approval highlights the dangers NSL's pose to privacy and confirms the need to reestablish meaningful checks and balances on governmental powers, the Center for Democracy and Technology said today.
According to news accounts, an internal FBI audit revealed that abuse of the National Security Letters -- which agents can use to demand a wide range of sensitive documents and data without consulting a judge -- was far more extensive than previously acknowledged. These revelations, however, are not surprising given the extent to which NSL's bypass the checks and balances normally relied on to ensure that innocent Americans aren't caught in FBI dragnets.
"The massive increase in the use of National Security Letters authorized by the PATRIOT Act has been a privacy nightmare for Americans," CDT counsel Greg Nojeim said. "No compelling reason has ever been offered for why investigators cannot consult a judge before getting records from banks, telephone companies, and credit bureaus. In light of these recent violations, NSLs should replaced in most cases with a timely system for meaningful judicial review of investigative requests."