Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mueller says FBI continues abuses

FBI Director Robert Mueller sat down before the Senate Judiciary Committee (incomplete testimony, minus the juicy bits here), and he continued the ongoing saga of his agency's abuse of the powers it has been delegated. According to the Associated Press:

The FBI improperly used national security letters in 2006 to obtain personal data on Americans during terror and spy investigations, Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday.

This comes after an Inspector General's testimony and report detailing similar abuses of authority earlier in the decade -- national security letters featured prominently in the earlier scandal too.

While Mueller's testimony produces no revelations, it does provide ample evidence that FBI violations of civil liberties aren't occasional missteps -- they're a chronic problem. Year after year, as the 2007 report (PDF) revealed, the feds improperly use their powers "to obtain information from third parties, such as telephone companies, financial institutions, Internet service providers, and consumer credit agencies. In these letters, the FBI can direct third parties to to provide customer account information and transactional records, such as telephone toll billing records." Each time, FBI leaders promptly promise to reform practices and make sure due-process requirements and Americans' privacy rights are respected in the future -- and then off we go to the next round of reports and hearings.

It should be clear by now that government officials can't be trusted with the kind of power they've been given. If the same powers are abused year in and year out, then those powers need to be taken away and increased oversight has to be put in place. We'll probably still get violations of rights under a regime of reduced authority, but those violations will be less dangerous and more easily revealed than the tens of thousands of national security letters that have flown around the country in recent years under current law.

As I pointed out in an earlier post:

"A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Use of National Security Letters" (PDF) points out that the use of these letters soared from 8,500 in 2000 (before the Patriot Act) to 39,000 in 2003, 56,000 in 2004, and 47,000 in 2005. Each letter may contain more than one request for information, so even those figures understate the matter.

As matters stand now, are we really any safer because the FBI can't keep its prying eyes out of our personal business? Or are we just under the nosy stares of an agency staffed with tax-funded voyeurs?

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Anonymous The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit said...

What I really like about things like this is the double standard that the State has. Let just one whackjob with a gun murder somebody, and the demands go screaming through the roof that nobody should be allowed to have guns.

But let State whackjobs repeatedly abuse their privileges - not rights - and it's "ho hum, no big deal, we'll tell 'em to stop. Again."

March 6, 2008 7:57 AM  

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