Report: FBI Has Repeatedly Misused the Patriot Act

Posted on March 9, 2007

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By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

The FBI has repeatedly misused the Patriot Act’s extraordinary surveillance powers by obtaining information on Americans unlawfully, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Friday in a report that already has drawn promises of a congressional investigation.

The 199-page report, which found “serious misuse” of the surveillance power (please click here to download the 34 megabyte long report in PDF  format), says that FBI field agents unlawfully accessed telephone companies’ internal databases showing calling records, and repeatedly sought and obtained information that federal law does not permit to be disclosed without a judge’s approval.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine oversaw the creation of the report, which reviewed the FBI’s use of national security letters. The 2001 Patriot Act expanded the FBI’s ability to use those letters–which do not require court approval–to obtain confidential information on Americans from banks, credit card companies, credit bureaus, telephone companies and Internet service providers.

Fine said, however, that there was no evidence that the FBI agents’ unlawful activities “constituted criminal misconduct.” Unlike conducting an unlawful wiretap, which is a federal felony, unlawful use of national security letters carries no criminal penalties.  [more]

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