The FBI has blatantly abused a key PATRIOT Act provision and knowingly violated the law to spy on Americans' telephone, Internet, and other personal records, as documented in a report recently released by the Justice Department. Congress must rein in this egregious behavior, but it can't stop there -- the Bush Administration's unprecedented pattern of disregarding the law stretches far beyond the examples in this report. Tell Congress to defend your privacy now.
Before PATRIOT, the FBI could use so-called National Security Letters only for securing the records of suspected terrorists or spies. But under PATRIOT the FBI can use them to get private records about anybody without any court approval as long as it believes the information could be relevant to an authorized terrorism or espionage investigation.
According to the Justice Department's Inspector General, the FBI's misuse of its authority included issuing NSLs to spy on people who weren't the subject of any existing investigation whatsoever. The FBI also lied to Congress and underreported its use of NSLs by many thousands. Worse still, the FBI has ignored its own lawyers' advice and intentionally evaded PATRIOT's thin bounds, improperly requesting and obtaining personal records through so-called "exigent letters" that Congress never authorized.
That's only a sampling of the horror story painted by the report, and, had Congress not ordered the Inspector General to review the FBI's activities last year, these abuses might have never been revealed. From the moment PATRIOT was passed, we said the NSL power was ripe for abuse and unconstitutional, and it's clearer than ever that Congress should repeal PATRIOT's expansion of NSL powers and reform the PATRIOT Act as a whole.
Moreover, Congress must broadly investigate the Administration's use of surveillance powers, including the NSA's massive and illegal domestic spying program. Congress and the American public have been kept in the dark about such clear violations of the law and Americans' privacy for far too long. Immediate and thorough oversight hearings are necessary to uncover the truth and hold the Administration accountable.