The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a report over the weekend detailing an alarming amount of violations from FBI intelligence investigations between 2001 and 2008. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI released 2,500 documents detailing violations made to the Intelligence Oversight board. The documents highlight nearly 800 specific violations stemming from FBI monitoring of American citizens, resident aliens and non-residents alike.
According to the report, violations include “submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas and accessing password protected documents without a warrant.” Of those violations, “over 1/3rd involved rules governing internal oversight of intelligence investigations, 1/3rd involved abuse, misuse or careless use of the Bureau’s National Security Letter authority and almost one fifth involved a violation of the Constitution or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” The EFF report states that could be just the tip of the iceberg, noting that tens of thousands of intelligence abuse violations could have occurred.
The FBI had help in its actions as well. The report notes that companies who received National Security Letters contributed to the FBI’s abuse of the letters. More than half the time, phone companies, ISP’s, banks and credit bureaus handed the information requested in the NSL without receiving any kind of legal justification from the FBI. In at least one case, a company which had produced more information than the FBI requested sent the same amount of information when asked for a reduced amount of files. In addition to abusing NSL’s, the EFF found that in the cases of Constitutional violations, the IOB documents were the most redacted and that “it is evident that the FBI is withholding information on an inconsistent and arbitrary basis.”
The EFF concludes: While many hoped the era of abusive FBI practices would end with the Bush Administration, there is little evidence that President Obama has taken significant measures to change past intelligence abuses… Congress, however, has an opportunity to remedy these abuses: portions of the USA PATRIOT Act expire in late February, and a bill has already been introduced in the House of Representatives to reauthorize it.34 Instead of simply rubber-stamping the intelligence community’s continuing abuse of Americans’ civil liberties, Congress should seize this opportunity to investigate the practices of the FBI and other intelligence agencies, and to demand greater accountability, disclosure, and reporting from these agencies. While we can certainly hope the House would let the sunset portions of the PATRIOT Act to set, it’s hard to imagine that a Republican House that highly values a paranoid national security state would do so.