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DOJ review finds improper FBI use of national security letters increased in 2006

[JURIST] The FBI has continued to improperly use so-called national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF], with the number of violations increasing in 2006 over previous years, according to a US Department of Justice follow-up review [PDF text] released Thursday. Last March, the DOJ found in its initial review on NSL abuse [PDF text; JURIST report] that NSL violations similarly rose between 2003 through 2005. In response, the FBI published new draft guidelines [JURIST report] on the use of NSLs in June 2007, requiring FBI agents to identify the specific information being requested and justify its necessity pursuant to an investigation. Thursday's report praised recent efforts by the FBI to implement reforms, but noted that full compliance with new FBI measures and elimination of all NSL problems would take more time.

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website] conducted both reviews under the terms of the 2005 Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] renewal legislation. The report follows testimony [JURIST report] by FBI Director Robert Mueller before the US Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the latest review indicated the FBI had continued to inappropriately access private citizens' communication and financial records in 2006 through NSLs. Some 20,000 national security letters are issued by the FBI each year, authorizing agents to seize telephone, business and financial records without prior judicial approval. Alleged abuses and overreaching with the letters spurred provisions in the 2005 Patriot Act renewal to provide for greater Congressional oversight of the practice. After the report was released Thursday, the FBI issued a response [press release], noting recent measures it has taken to comply with the 2007 review and asserting its commitment to improve national security while protecting civil liberties of citizens. AP has more.

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