April 14, 2008 | By Kurt Opsahl

EFF Issues Report on Abuse of National Security Letter

Today, EFF published a report on the misuse of a National Security Letter to seek educational records from North Carolina State University at Raleigh in 2005. The NSL authority does not allow the government to seek educational records.

The detailed report stems from EFF's Freedom of Information Act request for records about NSL abuse. FBI documents show that, over the span of three days in July 2005, the Charlotte Division of the FBI first obtained educational records pursuant to a grand jury subpoena, and then -- at the direction of FBIHQ -- returned the records and sought them again pursuant to an improper NSL.

The improper NSL was refused by the university, but the FBI finally obtained the records pursuant to a second grand jury subpoena. Later in July 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller used the delay in obtaining these particular records as an example of why the FBI needed administrative subpoena power instead of NSLs in testimony.

The misuse of the NSL was not formally reported until February 2007, a short time before Inspector General Glenn Fine’s report on the abuse of NSLs was due before Congress. While the Inspector General's report identified dozens of instances in which National Security Letters may have violated laws and agency regulations and were not reported, this is the first time documents have shown that top FBI executives were aware of a misuse before it was officially reported. It took almost two years before the incident was formally reported.

Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the misuse of the National Security Letter power (including testimony by FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni and Inspector General Glenn Fine), and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday.


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