[JURIST] FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profile] told the US Senate Judiciary Committee in testimony [prepared statement] Wednesday that the FBI had inappropriately accessed private citizens' communication and financial records in 2006 through national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF], according to an as-yet-unreleased report by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General. A March 2007 DOJ report on the FBI's use of NSLs between 2003 and 2005 previously criticized the Bureau [JURIST report] for ineffective management, monitoring and reporting of the program, leading to privacy breaches. In response, the FBI published new draft guidelines [JURIST report] on the use of NSLs in June 2007. The new guidelines required FBI agents to identify the specific information being requested and justify its necessity pursuant to an investigation.
The DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website] is set to release a follow-up report to the 2007 audit in a few days. 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 [JURIST news archive] renewal to provide for greater Congressional oversight of the practice. AP has more.
Mueller also testified Wednesday that the FBI's Civil Rights Program has been extended to include the Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative [press release], allowing the FBI to begin investigations into 26 unsolved civil rights era cases out of the nearly 100 referred to the FBI in 2007. Each of the 26 cases will be assessed for its investigative and legal viability; the FBI will then move forward with cases that require additional investigation. Emphasizing the protection of civil liberties, Mueller said that the FBI has "a longstanding commitment to the security of the United States, while at the same time upholding the Constitution and the rule of law and protecting civil liberties." AP has more.