July 9, 2007 | By Marcia Hofmann

EFF Receives First Set of FOIA Documents on the FBI's Misuse of National Security Letter Authority

  • More than 350 pages describing investigative missteps that the FBI considered disclosing to the Intelligence Oversight Board, which receives reports on intelligence gathering activities that violate guidelines, laws, or presidential orders. (See Parts 4, 5, and 6 of the FOIA documents, all PDFs.) These pages detail numerous NSL-related blunders -- most often agents making typographical errors that resulted in receipt of information about the wrong people, and ISPs handing over too much (or wrong) data to the FBI. The Bureau usually did not refer these matters to the Intelligence Oversight Board, often chalking them up to administrative errors or third-party mistakes. The FBI also decided against opening internal investigations into many of the incidents.The FOIA documents show, however, that several cases were forwarded to the Board between April 2005 and February 2007. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was copied on these referrals, despite congressional testimony in April 2005 that he was unaware of any civil liberties violations arising from the PATRIOT Act, and a March 2007 speech in which he claimed to be ?upset? and "concerned" by the inspector general's findings.
  • Copies of more than 60 "exigent letters" [PDF] sent by FBI headquarters to three telecomunications companies. The inspector general determined that the FBI's use of these short form letters, which cryptically asked for telephone records because of unspecified "exigent circumstances," circumvented the law and violated FBI guidelines and policies.
  • A government proposal [PDF] to expand the NSL provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act written after the inspector general's report was released.
  • Various model NSLs, which give us a good sense of what the demands look like, and memos providing guidance on proper use of NSL authority. (See Parts 1 and 2 of the FOIA documents, both PDFs.)

Happy reading! Stay tuned for another batch of FOIA documents about NSLs next month.

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