Rather than having to secure permission from an independent authority to snoop through Americans’ personal data, the FBI will be able to do so with national security letters issued by mid-level bureau officials. In short, we’re expecting the FBI to police itself when it comes to authorizing these letters:
“The fix the FBI seeks would ‘dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without oversight,’ said a coalition of privacy and civil society groups and industry organizations in a letter sent to the Hill Monday.
The new categories of information that could be collected using an NSL ‘would paint an incredibly intimate picture’ of a person’s life, said the letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Google, Facebook and Yahoo, among others. For example, a person’s browsing history, location information and certain email data could reveal details about a person’s political affiliation, medical conditions, religion and movements throughout the day, they said.
In addition, the NSL would come with a gag order preventing the company from disclosing it had a received a government request, said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. The letter noted that over the past 10 years, the FBI has issued more than 300,000 NSLs, most of which had gag orders. ‘That’s the perfect storm of more information gathered, less transparency and no accountability,’ Gulani said.
But a law passed last year, the USA Freedom Act, requires the Justice Department to review gag orders periodically to assess whether they are still justified.
The amendment being considered Thursday by the Judiciary Committee is part of a broader effort by lawmakers to update ECPA to require law enforcement to get a warrant for all email content, regardless of whether it is one day or one year old.
Privacy groups and tech companies support the broader ECPA update, versions of which some lawmakers have sought for years.
But the groups and tech organizations in their letter said that if the ECPA bill includes the NSL provision, they will pull their support.”
Source: Washington Post