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DOJ leaders admit FBI broke laws in soliciting personal information

[JURIST] Top US Justice Department officials moved quickly Friday to acknowledge fault and apologize for illegal activities after a sharply critical DOJ inspector general's report [PDF] on Patriot Act investigative practices revealed that the FBI [official website] broke and misused laws [JURIST report] in the process of obtaining personal information from telephone companies, internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other business personal records. FBI Director Robert Mueller said [press briefing transcript] that FBI agents had improperly used so-called "exigent letters," under which communication carriers, relying on the FBI's representation of "emergency situations", are directed to provide personal information with the expectation that grand jury subpoenas would follow. Mueller noted that the report "found that there were not necessarily exigent circumstances and that [subsequent] grand jury subpoenas had not followed." Mueller told reporters that the FBI had suspended the use of exigent letters since May of last year and will only use them in future "when the circumstances comport with the [Patriot Act]." Mueller also admitted that the FBI violated privacy protections in its use of national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF] with inaccurate record keeping, and also failed to detect potential Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) violations and submit them to IOB review. Mueller stated that the FBI has taken corrective measures [diagram] to ensure that the FBI complies with all applicable laws and internal policy requirements.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales meanwhile said [prepared remarks] that he has ordered the DOJ National Security Division (NSD) [official website] "to begin oversight and auditing of the FBI's use of NSLs..." and had ordered briefings on the inspector general's report to be "given to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Congress and key advocacy groups." The review by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official website] was conducted under the terms of the 2005 Patriot Act renewal legislation. Both Gonzales and Mueller reiterated that the inspector general found no "intentional or deliberate misuse of authorities." AP has more.

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