Just when you thought it was safe…

Fears about national security letters, and abuse of governmental power have now seemingly come to fruition. On the heels of a Justice Department audit revealing that the FBI has routinely been violating both the spirit and the letter of the law regarding national security letters, the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell has called for a sweeping expansion of the government’s authority to eavesdrop, search, break into homes and make copies of computer hard drives, all with little or no judicial review.

This is an audacious power grab, at a time when the Bush administration is increasingly on the ropes – both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. As Illinois Senator Richard Durbin remarked, the audit “confirms the American people’s worst fears about the Patriot Act. It appears that the administration has used these powers without even the most basic regard for privacy of innocent Americans.”

George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection, the Connecticut library consortium that successfully challenged a national security letter request in 2005-2006, testified before Congress on April 11, 2007. He noted, however, that the situation with the supposedly reformed Patriot Act is just as danger as to democratic freedoms as it was originally:

“It is widely believed that some civil liberties were restored in the revised PATRIOT Act, but they were not. Language in the revised law appears to protect the privacy of library records, but a loophole inserted into the wording allows the FBI to use a national security letter to obtain library records anyway. The revision states that a library functioning in a “traditional role” is not subject to an NSL UNLESS it is providing “electronic communication services,” which the law defines as “any service that provides to users thereof the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications.” Thus, any library providing Internet service can still be served with an NSL – that is essentially every library in the United States today. Robert Mueller, FBI Director, in a written response to a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry, even stated that new language “did not actually change the law.”

The ACLU has called for Congress to “reject this new attempt to erode the 4th Amendment and its protections.”

With respect to the Justice Department audit showing FBI misuse of national security letters, ALA President Leslie Burger issued an official statement last month saying: “The recent findings by the Inspector General demonstrate that not only was the FBI misleading citizens then, it’s been misleading them all along”. The ALA has apparently not yet weighed in on National Intelligence Director McConnell’s proposed expansion of the government’s search and surveillance powers. Waive to the camera.

Sources:

“FBI Misused Patriot Act, Justice Department Audit Says,” American Libraries, March 9, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2007/march2007/fbiaudit.cfm

“National Security Letters Misused,” Don Wood, Library 2.0 blog. March 12, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available http://donwood.alablog.org/blog/_archives/2007/3/12

“Librarian Who Challenged NSLs Urges Congress to Fix Patriot Act.” ACLU website, April 11, 2007. Online. (April 14, 2007) Available http://www.aclu.org/natsec/gen/29314prs20070411.html

“McConnell seeks to boost U.S. spy powers,” Katherine Shrader, AP. Yahoo News, April 13, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070410/ap_on_go_ot/spy_chief_powers

“ACLU: Congress Must Reject Administration’s Call for FISA’s ‘Modernization’,” ACLU website, April 13, 2007. Online. (April 14, 2007) Available http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/29356prs20070413.html

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