National Security Letters Reform Act To Curtail Patriot Act Abuse

New legislation was introduced today by Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to rein in Patriot Act abuse.

The bipartisan bill, National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009, aims to curb rampant abuse of that power by federal law enforcement following the expansion of the Patriot Act and was introduced with 17 cosponsors. NSLs are secret subpoenas used to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval.

“To ensure that Americans’ privacy and free speech rights are protected, there must be clear oversight and strict guidelines tied to the use of NSLs,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Mr. Nadler and Mr. Flake should be applauded for taking this legislative step. Their bill will realign the current NSL authority with the Constitution. Congress must take this opportunity to rein in the power of the NSL.”

NSLs were originally crafted to gain information about suspected terrorists but the Patriot Act expanded the statute to allow the subpoenas, which are issued in secrecy, do not require court review, and contain a gag order, to be used to obtain personal information about people who are simply deemed “relevant” to an investigation. After the statute’s expansion, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a series of reports over the last several years outlining systemic misuse and abuse of NSLs by FBI agents.

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