Justice Department Audits Flag FBI Privacy Abuses

"Without an outside check," German continued, "agents are able to demand at will and ask questions later."

The review also notes an increase in the number of possible intelligence violations reported to the FBI's Office of General Counsel.

In 2006, FBI field offices reported 84 possible violations in 75 national security investigations. The violations included improper authorizations, unauthorized investigative activity and unauthorized collection.

According to the report, many of the instances involved third party error in providing more information than was requested by the FBI. This was a three-fold increase over the 26 possible violations reported in the 2003-2005 timeframe.

In 2006, the FBI referred 34 of the possible violations to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board.

One example cited concerns for the over collection of materials, such as "the receipt of telephone billing records for the 'family plan' (multiple telephone numbers) of individuals who were not relevant to an authorized investigation."

The Director of the ACLU's National Security Project, Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement that the report "makes abundantly clear that the FBI has been given far too much surveillance power. Because this power is not subject to meaningful judicial oversight, it is being grossly abused."

"There is a pressing need for stricter guidelines and more robust oversight," he continued. "The Inspector General's report shows what happens when the FBI is asked to police itself." Last year's report found that the FBI requested 143,074 NSLs from 2003-2005. The FBI issued approximately 39,000 NSLs in 2003, 56,000 in 2004, and 47,000 in 2005.

The FBI, working with the Justice Department's newly created National Security Division, has begun the process of auditing and reviewing how NSLs are used. In February 2006, the FBI's office of General Counsel established an NSL database to more accurately track the use of national security letters.

Last year's Inspector General report revealed that the FBI contacted three telephone companies for telephone records in 700 "exigent letters" without first seeking a National Security Letter. The Inspector General's review also found concerns that after the FBI had issued exigent letters for telephone records, it issued retroactive NSLs to cover information obtained from the Letters.

"More troubling, 11 blanket NSLs issued by [FBI] Headquarters officials in 2006 that sought telephone data on 3,860 telephone numbers did not comply with the Patriot Reauthorization Act requirements respecting these provisions, internal FBI policy, or both."

The use of the exigent letters violated internal FBI policy and the Attorney General's guidelines. Concerns over uses of the exigent letters have been serious enough that the DOJ Inspector General is conducting a separate review on the issue.

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