Hearings have begun in the Senate and House concerning violations of policy and potential violations of law in the FBI’s distribution and enforcement of National Security Letters (NSLs) as recently reported by the Office of the Inspector General (IG). These findings confirm many of ALA’s most repeatedly stated concerns about the lack of oversight into the FBI’s surveillance activities, resulting in repeated intrusions into the lives of innocent Americans.
While the ALA fully supports the efforts of law enforcement in legitimate investigations, those efforts must be balanced against the right to privacy. As part of this investigation, the ALA has contacted Members’ offices to discuss our position and propose questions for these and future hearings concerning the number and nature of NSLs that have been served to librarys/bookstores. The ALA further calls upon Congress to tighten language in the USA PATRIOT Act to minimize these sorts of privacy violations and to provide thorough, ongoing oversight into the FBI’s surveillance activities.
From 2003 to 2005, the FBI issued 140,000 NSL requests. These requests have greatly increased from 2000, when there were only 8,500 NSL requests. Congress broadened the use of NSLs in the PATRIOT Act in regard to the legality of seeking information with no judicial review and reduced the standards for obtaining information to records that are deemed “relevant” to an investigation.
During the March 27, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Leahy specifically questioned FBI Director Mueller about NSLs and libraries.
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