April 7, 2007:
We've fallen off the Monthly Action Day a bit, not that we aren't trying to figure out how to be more politically efftive. In the meantime, we're taking advantage of the many Action Centers of some organizations we support to add our name to support their action campaigns.
This month we decided to add our voice at what seems like an opportune moment to achieve some badly needed amendments to the Patriot Act. Through the ACLU's Action Center we sent the following message to our Representative and Senators:
In light of the Department of Justice's Inspector General (IG) report documenting widespread abuses of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) use of National Security Letters (NSLs), I strongly urge you and your colleagues to limit the extraordinary powers in the Patriot Act so that they may only be used against suspected terrorists.
The report documents serious breaches of department regulations and numerous potential violations of the law. It also criticized the FBI for lax managerial controls that invited abuse, found that agents had claimed "exigent circumstances" where none existed, and that some recipients had provided more information than authorized by law.
In addition, the report found the FBI is collecting information on innocent Americans far removed from any investigation, and is sharing that information with a variety of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies including foreign governments. As a result, innocent Americans' information is entered into numerous databases without justification and without proper oversight over who has access to that information or how that information is being used.
Claims that the FBI's reported Patriot Act abuses were unintentional are simply not credible. The IG report found that agents contracted with phone companies to obtain customer records and later sought to cover up the illegal requests. Despite the fact that the FBI describes NSLs as its "bread and butter" investigative technique, the IG report documented only one terrorism conviction resulting from an NSL request.
Critics of the Patriot Act have long warned that without proper checks and balances, its extraordinary powers would be abused. The IG report confirms this to be true.
Congress must take action and reestablish the constitutionally mandated checks and balances by requiring court approval for access to sensitive and personal information.
Additionally, Congress should make certain that the extraordinary powers of the Patriot Act are used only against suspected terrorists. And Congress should guarantee that gag orders are only imposed when national security is sincerely at risk and are not used to hide government abuse of power.
Thank you for your efforts to preserve American democracy.