Justice Department Says F.B.I. Misused Patriot Act

In what should not come as that big of a surprise, AP reports:

The FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States, a Justice Department audit concluded Friday.

And for three years the FBI underreported to Congress how often it forced businesses to turn over the customer data, the audit found.

…The audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on individuals without proper authorization. The 126-page audit also found the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

…Fine’s annual review is required by Congress, over the objections of the Bush administration.

The audit released Friday found that the number of national security letters issued by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law.

In 2000, for example, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 letters. By 2003, however, that number jumped to 39,000. It rose again the next year, to about 56,000 letters in 2004, and dropped to approximately 47,000 in 2005.

Over the entire three-year period, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses, the audit found. But that did not include an additional 8,850 requests that were never recorded in the FBI’s database, the audit found.

…The FBI also used so-called ”exigent letters,” signed by officials at FBI headquarters who were not authorized to sign national security letters, to obtain information. In at least 700 cases, these exigent letters were sent to three telephone companies to get toll billing records and subscriber information.

”In many cases, there was no pending investigation associated with the request at the time the exigent letters were sent,” the audit concluded.

Unbelievable. The full 199-page report can be downloaded here (PDF). And more coverage is available at Boing Boing and 27B Stroke 6.

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