National Security Letters:
The Washington Post has an important story on overuse of the FBI's authority to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) in terrorism investigations. The author's personal views are pretty clear, and some of the pieces don't quite fit together — for example, I'm not entirely sure of the connection between NSLs and databases. But putting aside the occasional op-ed-like quality of the piece, it has some important new information about how changing FBI guidelines may have considerably expanded the use of NSLs. Of particular interest: "The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms."
llamasex (mail) (www):
I think the link is pretty clear in the Vegas section of the article.

"According to others directly involved, investigators turned to national security letters and grand jury subpoenas when friendly persuasion did not work.

Early in the operation, according to participants, the FBI gathered casino executives and asked for guest lists. The MGM Mirage company, followed by others, balked.

All this information, along with rental information storage information, phone records collected during this search (theoretically because no one knows for sure), gets plugged into large government databases, since the FBI is no longer required to destroy that information as they were in the past before the Ashcroft order.
11.6.2005 1:54pm
Kate1999 (mail):
Yeah, and the large government databases are obviously given to the alies.
11.6.2005 2:17pm
Byomtov (mail):
I eagerly await defenses of this from "libertarians" who so admire Bush.
11.6.2005 2:38pm
tefta (mail):
Liberals like it when only their side has access to databases, to wit, 900 FBI files that inexplicably found their way into the database Hillary was compiling.
11.6.2005 3:59pm
Zargon (mail):
Liberals like it when only their side has access to databases, to wit, 900 FBI files that inexplicably found their way into the database Hillary was compiling.

...whereas conservatives like to make random gratuitous references to Senator Clinton for no apparent reason?

Back on topic, Orin - In the past, you've defended the expansions of police power from the Patriot Act. A 100x increase in usage of these clearly indicates a large demand for this information from the FBI. Whether or not this is justified by law enforcement needs, do you feel there is sufficient oversight currently in place?
11.6.2005 6:54pm
SomeJarhead (mail):
I show you the significant oversight in place regarding the expansions of police power from the Patriot Act: It's called the exclusionary rule.

Since you've almost certainly forgotten all of the constitutional law you (maybe) ever learned, I'll explain. If the government violates the Fourth Amendment, as determined by a court, then the evidence gathered is inadmissable in court. In other words, if the government violates your rights, you get away with the crime.

Congress can pass all the procedural statutes it wants, and the Executive can put those procedures to use in its enforcement (of democratically-passed laws), but the courts can always refuse to allow the evidence to be heard, and juries can always refuse to convict.

But, typically, you lefties don't trust people to do what's right; you only trust government to do things for us. That's why you hate elections, free association, the Second Amendment, a Judiciary that must respect rational limits, and yes, the Patriot Act.
11.7.2005 6:48am
Per Son:

Liberals and libertarians hate government going on fishing expeditions when they do not even have probable cause.

According to your logic, the government can break any law in an investigation (and we should sit back and enjoy it), because we should just trust that the government is doing the right thing. I prefer not to be terrorized by the government in the first instance, than wait for several years of trials before I can be vindicated.

Lastly, it is not just about trials. It is about the right to be free from such searches (trial or no trial).

I am still shocked that a conservative (yourself) thinks that we should blindly trust the government to do the right thing with minimal checks (a la Patriot Act).
11.7.2005 8:51am
panthan (mail):

While it may be possible to have certain evidence thrown out (assuming your lawyer is sufficiently adept, which means that "wealthy, knowledgeable" people may be the only ones for which this matters), in some cases it would be enough that it had been aired at all. Reputations matter in some fields.

And I'm no lawyer, so I have no idea whether information obtained through a "request" which is honored under the threat of a much broader, more intrusive NSL would be considered a fourth amendment violation.

One question I have is about that data base: since it contains information about many, many people who will be totally unconnected with any particular query, why isn't consulting it a fourth amendment violation? If my bank records (about which I have a presumption of privacy) have been included, than any review of them should require a warrant.

Finally, about people doing "the right thing".

a) Wouldn't the "right thing" include using NSLs the way they were intended? And requesting only authorized information? Neither of which seems to be the practice?

b) Someone's opinion of the right thing tends to change based on experience. I fear that the agents requesting (and signing) the NSLs will be in an 'echo chamber', their opinions constantly reinforced, until they are able to say with a straight face that it's okay if the FBI knows everything about everyone, so long as it isn't actually used to put you (mistakenly) in jail.
11.7.2005 10:17am
The article stated that there was a 100 fold increase in the NSL from historic norms. I for one wish they would be more specific on the "historic norms". Is that the average yearly number of letters from the conception of the FBI? or is it 100 times the number issued in 2000. Without knowing how they define "historic norms" it is hard to determine the validity of the claim. they could very well be the third of the three types of liars as defined by Mark Twain; liars, damn liars, and statisticians.
11.7.2005 1:44pm