News Release

FBI Audit Finds Thousands of Violations of Privacy


The Washington Post reports today: “An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism. … The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files…”

Nojeim is counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology. He said today: “The FBI’s frequent misuse of so-called ‘National Security Letters’ to obtain sensitive information about Americans without judicial approval highlights the dangers NSLs pose to privacy and confirms the need to reestablish meaningful checks and balances on governmental powers. … These revelations, however, are not surprising given the extent to which NSLs bypass the checks and balances normally relied on to ensure that innocent Americans aren’t caught in FBI dragnets.”

Nojeim added: “The massive increase in the use of National Security Letters authorized by the PATRIOT Act has been a privacy nightmare for Americans. No compelling reason has ever been offered for why investigators cannot consult a judge before getting records from banks, telephone companies, and credit bureaus. In light of these recent violations, NSLs should replaced in most cases with a timely system for meaningful judicial review of investigative requests.”
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Graves is the deputy director at the Center for National Security Studies. She said today: “It is no surprise that the FBI violated the rules for the collection of information on people in the U.S. after Congress unwisely expanded its unchecked power to do so. The National Security Letter, which was converted into a National Security Subpoena last year by a Congress willing to do the administration’s bidding, remains a very powerful and intrusive tool that has virtually no independent checks against its abuse. But for this mandatory audit, the American people would continue to be misled by this administration’s false assurances that these post 9-11 powers were not being abused.”

Graves added: “There is now clear proof that Americans’ privacy has been violated countless times and also that the FBI has created a massive ‘Investigative Data Warehouse,’ with more records than there are people in the U.S. and which includes private information about people who have done nothing wrong or been cleared of any wrongdoing. Congress should investigate this further and pass wise legislation by Congresswoman Harman to require judicial approval before an American’s financial, insurance, phone or Internet records are turned over to the FBI and disseminated through this new data warehouse.”
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For more information, contact the Institute for Public Accuracy at (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan at (541) 484-9167.