Awww, the Poor FBI Is Being Picked On

UPI has a story about the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, which were declared unconstitutional by a federal judge last month, asking the question of whether the FBI is being “handcuffed” by such restrictions. It almost makes one weep to think of those poor FBI agents actually being forced to comply with the 4th Amendment.

National Security Letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to force telecom companies, ISPs, credit card companies and pretty much anyone else to turn over records on their customers to the government without any need to go to a judge, show probable cause and get a warrant. And they even forbid those companies from informing the client, or anyone else, that they’ve had those records turned over. Judge Susan Illston ruled last month that NSLs are a violation of the 4th Amendment, which they clearly are. But she stayed her order for 90 days to give the DOJ a chance to appeal that ruling, which they will undoubtedly do (remember that Obama’s record on civil liberties is pretty much appalling).

But the FBI doesn’t like this one bit. They claim that this “ties their hands” and prevents them from protecting us (be afraid, be very afraid!) against terrorism. But why would that be, exactly? It certainly isn’t difficult for them to get a search warrant from a judge. They even have their own secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that they can go to, a court that has almost never denied such a warrant when requested. But the FBI — and the Obama administration — think even that tiny little minor safeguard is just too much to expect. 4th Amendment? Screw the 4th Amendment.

Glenn Greenwald is right when he says that the National Security State is now firmly in place with the full support of both major parties. It’s a matter of bipartisan consensus. Which means the courts are pretty much the only hope for putting any meaningful limits on the government’s ability to violate the 4th Amendment at will. And that’s not very reassuring.

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  • trucreep

    I saw an interesting article regarding Apple’s iMessage and how the DEA can’t intercept these messages. Fuck em

  • doublereed

    Err… if National Security Letters are unconstitutional, would that even mean that they don’t issue them anymore? I think that’s the first question to ask: are they still using National Security Letters? Because I don’t see what’s to stop them from flagrantly ignoring the law.

  • Ed:

    Shame on you! Since when do we have to worry about OUR FBI going on witchhunts and abusing their authority? Is it because Jedgar Hoover’s dead and can’t keep a tight rein on them? Too bad Augusto Pinochet is dead, he’d be a perfect Director!

  • Look, every time our side has to stop to ensure the paperwork is in order, the terrorists win. Every dotted i and crossed t is another loss for Freedom! It’s bad enough that they have to send out these time-wasting letters in the first place. People should be policing and voluntarily turning over all information in the first place!

    Besides, it’s just an Amendment. If it was actually important, they would’ve put it in with the main text.

  • As much as I tend to agree with you, and without explaining how I know, the todo over NSLs is a bit overwrought lemme just say.

    Do you know what is in an NSL?

  • Aren’t these more often used in drug investigations than terrorism cases? Or am I thinking of the “sneak & peak” warrants?

  • Draken

    They can be used for anything on anyone, since there is no judicial overview. That’s the whole point.

  • Draken – They’re usually for obtaining subscriber information, ie “such and such number called our subject, send an NSL to the phone company and ask for the information regarding that number.” Some can be used to obtain e-mail headers and subjects “give us the headers and subject lines for”

    The problem comes in later. While yes, they can obtain anything from anyone, when said person goes to trial, the defense can simply point out the overcollection and toss out the conviction. FBI agents hate overcollection, which is why the NSLs are so damned exacting in what they request. Anything over and above what they want is considered overcollection and they have to write a report and a letter and do paperwork.

    And the simple reason for non-disclosure is that you don’t want a subject to know that a) the FBI is tapping their lines and b) that the FBI is interested to know who they’re contacting. It’s a criminal investigation, letting the criminal know they’re being investigated is kind of a really stupid way to conduct an investigation, neh?