One of the most egregious violations of our constitutional traditions in the so-called PATRIOT Act is the power of issuing National Security Letters given to the FBI. These letters allow the FBI to harvest massive amounts of private and confidential information without a warrant, judicial review, any means to challenge the demands’ validity, or any independent oversight of the absurdly low evidentiary standard under which the letters issue. The recipient of such a letter is put under a perpetual gag order, except that now under an amendment to the Act a recipient may now consult a lawyer, but may not even tell Congress about the letter. Worse, the information collected has no expiration, even if it turns out to be useless to any investigation. Instead the information is warehoused in a giant database currently consisting of over 500 million records that over 10,000 federal employees have access to, and an untold number of state employees through joint terror task forces.
The FBI’s own internal audits have found that there have massive abuses of the letters, failures in training, and that there is not a single instance when these powers have led to the arrest or prosecution of a single terror suspect. Instead these powers have been used in thousands of standard criminal investigations, especially drug cases. Regardless of the efficacy of such tactics, these extraordinary powers were not instituted to make the FBI’s job easier when pursuing street criminals, but in an attempt to keep us safe from terrorist attack. Of course it would be easier for police forces everywhere to be able to simply dispense with the judicial oversight provided by the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, but soon thereafter this would no longer be a free society.
The following documentary, "FBI Unbound," tells the story of how these letters came to be, their legal significance, and their use and abuse. Bruce Fein, who is quickly becoming, along with Bob Barr and Ron Paul, one of my conservative heroes, also makes a compelling case that this power is irresponsible, unconstitutional, and violative of our deepest American values. Please watch; it’s well worth the time.