BIPARTISAN GROUP OF SENATORS OFFERS RESPONSE TO NSL ABUSES
Legislation Would Prevent the Type of Serious Misuse of the FBI's National Security Letter Authorities Uncovered in March 2007
Washington, D.C. - A bipartisan group of senators is introducing legislation today to address the serious misuse of the FBI's national security letter (NSL) authorities. In an effort to continue protecting the civil liberties of all Americans, Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), John Sununu (R-NH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced the National Security Letter Reform Act to correct the misuses and Constitutional concerns surrounding the use of NSLs. The bill offered by the senators, who have previously worked together on legislation to amend the Patriot Act to safeguard the rights of law-abiding Americans, provides new statutory safeguards that allow the FBI to continue investigating terrorists and spies but also protect Americans' personal information. Upon introduction of the bill, the Senators released the following statement:
"We all agree that going after suspected terrorists needs to be a top priority, but we shouldn’t violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans. The FBI's abuse of its national security letter authorities uncovered by the Department of Justice Inspector General was disappointing and disturbing. The unchecked authority of the executive branch to use NSLs to obtain information about innocent people without judicial review is part of what led to these abuses. The American people deserve better. Congress needs to put appropriate limits on these authorities -- limits that allow the government to actively investigate suspected terrorists and spies while also protecting the privacy of innocent Americans."
Among the main provisions of the NSL Reform Act are:
· Authorizing the use of National Security Letters to obtain certain less sensitive types of communications records, financial records, and credit report records without judicial review, but with new procedural safeguards to protect against abuse.
· Requiring that the government make an individualized determination that each record sought with an NSL relates to someone with a connection to terrorism or espionage.
· Placing a time limit on the gag order associated with each NSL, which could be extended by a court if the government demonstrates an extension is necessary and the First Amendment is satisfied.
· Requiring that the FBI implement a program to ensure compliance with the NSL statutes and establish a tracking database for NSLs.
· Establishing a standard of individualized suspicion for the issuance of business records orders under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
· Ensuring meaningful after-the-fact judicial review procedures for NSLs and Section 215 orders and the accompanying gag orders.
· Preventing any future use of improper "exigent" letters identified by the Inspector General report.
The legislation has received the support of individuals and groups including:
o American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
o American Civil Liberties Union
o American Conservative Defense Alliance
o American Library Association
o American Policy Center
o Association of American Publishers
o Association of Research Libraries
o The Honorable Bob Barr, Former Member of Congress
o Bill of Rights Defense Committee
o Center for American Progress Action Fund
o Center for Democracy and Technology
o Center for National Security Studies
o Citizen Outreach
o Downsize DC
o Electronic Frontier Foundation
o David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union and Co-Chair of the Constitution Project’s Liberty & Security Initiative
o League of Women Voters of the United States
o Liberty Coalition
o Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform
o Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances
o PEN American Center
o Republican Liberty Caucus
o Rutherford Institute
o U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation