‘A Department of Justice report made public Friday highlights numerous problems with FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), a controversial legal device whose use was greatly expanded by the 2001 Patriot Act. NSLs allow the FBI to demand customer records from credit bureaus, banks, phone companies, ISPs, and other organizations without judicial review.
The report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), led by Glenn Fine, found that due to inadequate tracking and reporting systems, the FBI had significantly understated its use of NSLs in previous reports to Congress. After auditing a small fraction of the NSLs issued, Fine’s staff found 22 irregularities, some of them quite serious. That suggests that hundreds of NSLs have been issued in violation of the law. Perhaps worst of all, the report finds that the FBI sent over 700 “exigent letters” to three unidentified telephone companies requesting them to expedite the process by voluntarily handing over customer data without waiting for a formal subpoena or NSL.’