Return of the National Security Letters

Back in January, I wrote a post about National Security Letters (NSLs)—which I described as "the intelligence-gathering equivalent of the presidential signing statement—a stroke of the pen to magically turn dubiously ethical and formerly prohibited actions into perfectly legal maneuvers, with no legislation, no oversight, and no knowledge of the American people required"—detailing their increased use and all the instances in which NSLs appeared alonside words and phrases like "database" and "secret" in scenarios of questionable legality or outright illegality, always explained as "accidents," in the past two years.

And now they're back again in another strikingly similar scenario (emphasis mine):

A Justice Department investigation 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, officials with access to the report said yesterday.

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." The letters were used by the FBI to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents or visitors between 2003 and 2005. The FBI identified 26 potential violations in other cases.

Officials said they could not be sure of the scope of the violations but suggested they could be more widespread, though not deliberate. In nearly a quarter of the case files Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reviewed, he found previously unreported potential violations.
Once again, we owe a big, fat thank-you to the Patriot Act for conferring upon the federal government the right to seize personal information without even the pretense of judicial scrutiny or Congressional oversight. Under the Bush administration, the FBI, the NSA, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon (at minimum) have used NSLs as "administrative subpoenas" to conduct investigations of American citizens without any impartial party exacting a single check or balance on any of it.

Members of Congress are promising to hold hearings, following this latest revelation. What a difference a majority makes, eh?

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