The Washington Post today reported that from 2002 to 2006 the FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 telephone records by "invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records." According to the story:
"E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats."
"FBI officials told The Post that their own review has found that about half of the 4,400 toll records collected in emergency situations or with after-the-fact approvals were done in technical violation of the law."
These are precisely the type of complaints that the ACLU has raised since the adoption of the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001. Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office today noted that the FBI's internal oversight controls clearly failed.
"The FBI was given broad authority to issue NSLs in the Patriot Act and to flout even the minor privacy protections within that statute shows a blatant disregard for civil liberties of Americans," Macleod-Ball said. "The FBI has a notorious reputation for not being able to police itself and, in this instance, its internal oversight controls clearly failed. Even after being warned by their own lawyers, FBI supervisors continued sending exigent letters even though no emergency existed and they had no statutory authority for such letters."
Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project added the FBI showed flagrant duplicity in obtaining thousands of phone records over several years without any legal basis or justification for doing so.
"The FBI must be forthcoming and release information about its use of exigent letters and NSLs in order to hold accountable those who contributed to what clearly amounts to a systemic abuse of power," Goodman said. "The FBI should also lift unnecessary and unjustified gag orders that continue to silence thousands of NSL recipients from speaking out about the FBI's misuse of this intrusive record demand power, including our John Doe client who has now been gagged for nearly six years."