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The Federal Bureau of Investigation last year expanded its intrusion into the personal lives of Americans, targeting more than 14,000 with rights-robbing “national security letters” to pry into phone records, financial information and other private data.
The agency’s use of these letters, which can be issued without court order or any review, more than doubled in 2010.
According to information provided to Congress, the FBI in 2010 issued 24,287 national security letter requests to invade the privacy of 14,212 American citizens. The year before, the agency issued 14,788 requests for letters to target 6,114 citizens.
In 2007, the FBI inspector general’s office found “widespread violations” in use of the letters. The IG report cited demands without authorization and use of the letters in “non-emergency” situations.
While the FBI claims it has tightened oversight on the system, that oversight is internal with no external review.
National security letters require no court scrutiny. FBI officials can issue them without any review by a judge.
Even with claims of tighter scrutiny by the FBI, the practice continues to increase. The agency targeted 7,225 American citizens in 2008.
The increase comes after a sharp dropoff in the letters from the frenzy that came after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. From 2003 to 2005, the FBI said it issued 143,074 national security letters and then admitted that an additional 8,850 requests were “not recorded” in the agency’s database.