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Issue Position: Civil Rights and Liberties - National Security Letters

Issue Position


Another serious problem with the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act was the expanded use of National Security Letters (NSLs). NSLs are requests for financial, telecommunications, credit, and other business records issued directly by government agencies in national security investigations without the approval of a judge. Before the PATRIOT Act, the FBI and other issuing agencies could issue an NSL only if there was a link to an agent of a foreign power or terrorist. Post-PATRIOT Act, the government only has to allege the request is relevant to an investigation. This has resulted in an explosion in the number of NSLs issued. Unfortunately, passage of H.R. 3199 did nothing to change this disturbing trend or enhance congressional or judicial oversight over NSLs.

Because of her concerns, Rep. Eshoo introduced H.R. 4570, the National Security Letter Judicial and Congressional Oversight Act, which establishes guidelines for issuing NSLs to protect American citizens from this overreaching authority. This legislation prohibits the issuance of a NSL unless a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or a designated U.S. Magistrate Judge finds that the information being sought is relevant to an approved ongoing terrorism investigation; that the investigation is not being solely conducted on activities protected under the First Amendment; and that there are facts giving reason to believe that the information being sought pertains directly to a foreign power or its agent operating. Lastly this legislation would require the Attorney General to provide the House and Senate Committees on Intelligence with semiannual reports on the number of NSLs issued and a summary of how the information gathered assisted the intended investigation.

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