EFF Says FBI Bungled NSL Requests
FBI documents published today by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, depict a comedy of errors in the agency's use of National Security Letters to obtain educational records of a student suspected of having links to terrorism. The documents show that the FBI had the student's records in hand through a grand jury subpoena, but then returned them on orders from FBI headquarters to seek them again through an NSL. When lawyers at North Carolina State University refused to comply with the NSL because the law did not authorize their use to obtain educational records, the FBI went back for a second grand jury subpoena and ultimately obtained the records.
The kicker in all this, according to the EFF, is that FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III then used this delay in obtaining these records to argue to Congress for administrative subpoena power.
[O]n July 27, 2005, Mueller used the FBI’s inability to obtain the information pursuant to this improper NSL as an example in Congressional testimony. His testimony did not mention that the NSL exceeded the scope of the statutory authority, nor that the FBI had originally sought a subpoena and had records in hand before reversing course. Instead, he used the example to press for greater surveillance powers, testifying that the objections to the NSL 'resulted in a two-day delay.' (The supervisory agent involved, however, only said that the 'process delayed us approximately one day in obtaining the records.')
The EFF's release of these documents coincides with hearings set to begin this week before the House and Senate judiciary committees on the government's misuse of NSLs. "The FBI consistently asks for more power and less outside supervision," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Yet here the NSL power was misused at the direction of FBI headquarters, and only after review by FBI lawyers. Oversight and legislative reforms are necessary to ensure that these powerful tools are not abused."
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 15, 2008 at 01:59 PM | Permalink
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