The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a judge to issue an emergency order requiring the FBI to release agency records about its abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) to collect personal information about American citizens.
Congressional hearings and a storm of media coverage followed a recent Justice Department report detailing the FBI's extensive misuse of NSLs -- requests through which federal agents collect telephone, Internet, financial, credit and other personal records about Americans, without judicial approval. The report and the ensuing uproar sparked introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives to curb the FBI's authority. In a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), EFF asks that the FBI release all information about NSL abuse without delay, so that the records can become part of the national debate about domestic surveillance.
"Congress has already dedicated several hearings to the FBI's abuse of investigative power and is thinking about how to prevent such abuses in the future," EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann told reporters. "But if there is going to be meaningful debate about this issue, we need more information than what the Administration chooses to make public and we need it now."
The Department of Justice has already agreed that the records should be disclosed quickly, due to media attention, as well as questions the NSL report has raised about the government's integrity. But the FBI has failed to meet the 20-day time limit that Congress set for requests that do not merit fast processing.
EFF's FOIA request asks for all FBI records discussing or reporting violations of current law, guidelines, or policies, as well as any communications discussing various potential interpretations of current federal investigative power. EFF also seeks copies of the contracts between the FBI and three telephone companies, which were intended to allow the FBI to gain rapid access to telephone records.
"There are a lot of questions right now about the government's integrity when it comes to domestic surveillance. The FBI must follow the law and release these records to the public," said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel.