FBI Broke Law In Domestic Spying, DOJ Finds

The FBI broke the law in obtaining information about private citizens after 9/11, a Department of Justice audit concluded today. From the AP:

The audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on individuals without proper authorization. The 126-page audit also found the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, “we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” the audit concludes.

At issue are the security letters, a power outlined in the Patriot Act that the Bush administration pushed through Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The letters, or administrative subpoenas, are used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases. They allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers – without a judge’s approval.”

We’re often worried about criminals improperly accessing our personal information, but what do you when it’s the Federal government? Hit the Boing Boing link for a download of the official 199-page report. — BEN POPKEN

DoJ: FBI misused Patriot act in domestic spying activities [Boing Boing]

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  1. critical_matt says:

    Well, I’d say your headline is a bit misleading.

    Per the Justice Department:

    “The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.”

  2. Ben Popken says:

    @critical_matt: There’s a difference between breaking the law and criminal misconduct. Per the Justice Department:

    Still, “we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” the audit concludes.

  3. critical_matt says:

    Hit enter too soon. According to the report there were over 143,000 requests for info (letters) over a 3 year period. There were ONLY 26 POSSIBLE violations. 22 because of mistakes by the FBI and 4 mistakes by vendors. According to my $2 calculator that comes to a .0001 percentage if the AP article is correct. However, I grant you that that is a lot of snooping the FBI is doing. In reading further I see they sent out about 700 more for cases of requesting phone info. Still a rather small percentage of the total.

  4. Daytonna says:

    Disconcerting, but not something that particularly bothers me. They already know everything about me anyways… security clearence and all that.

    But to everyday Joe… bit more of a problem. What was that old comic? Who watches the Watchmen?

  5. mathew says:

    Wow, who could have predicted that the “PATRIOT” act would be abused in this way?

    Oh, yeah, that’s right, WE ALL DID. Gaah.

  6. Sudonum says:

    @critical_matt:
    According to a Washington Post article this morning http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/
    the small number of records the Inspector Generals Office checked found that the FBI
    ” …underreported the number of requests they had made and that, in this small subset alone, the real number was 22 percent higher.”

    That’s a lot more than 0.01%. Unless, of course, Verizon is doing the math.

  7. mad_oak says:

    Does any government agency ever start out a new program with the question “how do we make this accountable to the American public”? Or do they just start applying the program willie nellie until someone bitches about it. (FEMA, Iraq Reconstruction, Patriot Act…)

  8. Good point mad_oak.