More Questions About Misuse of Authority at the Justice Department

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a judge Thursday to force the FBI to finally release records about its now documented abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) to collect Americans' personal information. EFF's filing comes as an internal FBI audit revealed that the bureau's misuse of surveillance authority has been more widespread then previously thought.

EFF sued the FBI in April after the agency failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about the misuse of NSLs. EFF's FOIA request came after an initial Justice Department report indicated extensive abuse of the powerful NSL tools. Now, the Washington Post has reported that a new audit identified more than 1000 potential violations made while agents collected data about domestic phone calls, emails and financial transactions of thousands of Americans. FBI officials told Post that there have likely been several thousand instances of abuse in total. This week, the FBI also released new guidelines for the use of NSLs, but that won't fix the core problem -- a law that's ripe for abuse.

"Under the PATRIOT Act, the Bureau can use NSLs to get private records about anybody without any court approval, as long as it claims the information could be relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation," said Marcia Hofmann, EFF Staff Attorney. "We have heard again and again about how the FBI has misused this new power to overreach into the lives of ordinary Americans. It's time for someone other than the Justice Department to assess the documented problems, and long past time for Congress to fix the mistake it made in the PATRIOT Act, including repealing the expanded NSL powers it gave the FBI."

EFF's supplemental memo to the court, filed Thursday, asked the judge to rule on a request for a preliminary injunction that would force the FBI to begin releasing information about NSL abuse to the public immediately.

For EFF's supplemental memo:

For the Washington Post article on NSLs:


Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues