National Security Letter
A National Security Letter (NSL) is issued by the FBI, and it allows the FBI to demand information about suspects without obtaining a search warrant. In fact, the recipient of the letter is prohibited from disclosing to anyone that they even received it. NSLs are issued under the authority of Executive Order 12333, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
In September 2007, a federal court ruled that the gag provision of NSLs was unconstitutional. (Analysis: ACLU Scores a Big Win Against the Patriot Act)
In 2005, the FBI delivered a total of 9,254 NSLs relating to 3,501 people. According to the Guardian article:
The department also reported it received a secret court's approval for 155 warrants to examine business records last year, under a Patriot Act provision that includes library records. However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said the department has never used the provision to ask for library records.
The number was a significant jump over past use of the warrant for business records. A year ago, Gonzales told Congress there had been 35 warrants approved between November 2003 and April 2005.
The FBI has acknowledged that it is using NSLs to obtain the telephone records of reporters.
- Imagine receiving a letter ... - DailyKos diary.
- U.S.: FBI Sought Info Without Court OK by Mark Sherman, Associated Press, April 28, 2006, in The Guardian.
- FBI Acknowledges: Journalists' Phone Records are Fair Game by Brian Ross for ABC News.
- Sample NSL - from the ACLU.
- Frequent Errors In FBI's Secret Records Requests, by John Solomon and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, March 9, 2007.
- FBI Violations May Number 3,000, Official Says, by R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, March 21, 2007.
- Conspiracy to Lie to Congress? - EFF reports that the FBI purposely delayed an investigation in the 2005 London bombings.
- The mild-mannered Librarians who took on the Patriot Act... and WON!, DailyKos, Nov. 11, 2008.