This morning's Washington Post reveals that the Department Of Justice has been pressuring Congress to expand its power to obtain records of Americans' private Internet activity through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).
NSLs, you may remember, are one of the most powerful and frightening tools of government surveillance to be expanded by the Patriot Act. These letters allow the FBI to secretly demand data from phone companies and internet service providers about the private communications of ordinary citizens. The letters include a gag order, which forbids recipients from ever revealing the letters' existence to their coworkers, their friends, or even to their family members, much less the public.
The gag order and the lack of oversight make this power ripe for abuse. Indeed, the FBI's systemic abuse of this power was confirmed both by a Department Of Justice investigation and in documents obtained by EFF through Freedom of Information Act litigation. Yet, in the years since that abuse became publicly known, there has been no reform of the law governing NSLs.
Now, the DOJ is asking Congress to pass vague and broad new language meant to expand the kinds of data that can be acquired through NSLs. This morning's Washington Post article suggests that the new language could allow access to detailed web browsing history, search history, location information, or even Facebook friend requests.
Considering the FBI's dismal record on surveillance abuses, this is a stunning and brazen request. They're asking Congress to reward bad behavior by allowing even more bad behavior. We're hoping that Congress will have the courage and integrity to turn them down. Keep reading Deeplinks for more news on this as it develops.