National Security Letters
In March 2007, the Department of Justice's Inspector General revealed that between 2002 and 2005, the FBI had abused and misused its power to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) as follows:
- misled businesses, saying they needed information for emergency situations, when there was no emergency
- withheld from Congress accurate figures on how much the FBI used NSLs
- collected huge databases full of information about ordinary people that was not destroyed after it became obvious the individuals were innocent. That information can still be shared throughout the government, and even with businesses
- the use of NSLs shifted from 2003 to 2005 to a focus on U.S. persons more than on non-U.S. persons by 53 percent
The result of the misuse and overwhelming amount of data collected
on ordinary U.S. residents can convince your local elected officials
to pass a resolution or ordinance protecting people in your community
from this kind of harsh government probing of innocent people.
Local organizations and groups can pass resolutions, joining with
you in the march to City Hall for redress of grievances.
Some results of the FBI's overzealous use of NSLs are:
- The FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse has over half a billion records, and accumulates more all the time, yet doesn't have enough time to follow up on the leads that data generates, and much of the data lacks any suspicious connections or actions.
- Entire consumer files have been collected by the FBI
Following the Inspector General's Report, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. In June 2007, a federal judge ordered the FBI to turn over thousands of pages of documents to the EFF. The documents reveal the extent of the FBI's abuses in greater detail than the Inspector General's report. More information on the lawsuit and the FBI documents can be found on the EFF's website.
Speaking Out Against NSLs:
- June 27, 2007, American Library Association, Resolution on the Use and Abuse of National Security Letters
- April 11, 2007, A letter that BORDC and 46 of our local and regional allies in 14 states signed on to along with national organizations spelling out the problems with NSLs and calling for change. (In PDF)
- March 28, 2007, Senator Feingold's Statement on the Inspector General's Report on NSLs:
- March 23, 2007, Letter to the Washington Post from an anonymous person gagged by an NSL
News Stories on NSLs:
- June 14, 2007, John Solomon, Washington Post, FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data
- May 15, 2007, "Spying on the Homefront" (60 minutes, 5 parts -- A damning indictment of the Bush Administration's pre-emption strategy to fight terrorism. Section 4, “National Security Letters and Data Mining” specifically addresses FBI abuses of NSLs)
- March 21, 2007, R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, FBI Violations May Number 3000
- November 6, 2005, Barton Gellman, Washington Post, The FBI's secret scrutiny (Blockbuster article about FBI's use of National Security Letters)
Local Resolutions on NSLs
In March 2007, Brighton, NY became the first community to pass a resolution stating it will refuse any National Security Letters from the FBI unless the town itself determines the NSL to be legal. It's a strong statement made to an agency that has shown its willingness to overreach and abuse its power. Each community that joins this effort contributes to a stronger coalition. Two months after Brighton's resolution, Eureka Springs, Arkansas passed a nearly identical resolution, refusing any illegal National Security Letters. Will your community be next?
Other Resouces on NSLs:
- 'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy by Daniel J Solove. This is an article which discusses the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" defense of NSLs. (The link to download the article in .pdf is further down the page.)
- BORDC March 29, 2007, workshop on NSLs webpage. Includes audio from the conference call with Lisa Graves.
- March 2007 Inspector General's Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Use of National Security Letters (Unclassified) (This may take a long time to download. The Executive Summary starts on viii.)
- Resource Page on NSLs from the Electronic Privacy Information Center