"Many of us have been saying that the potential for abuse of the Patriot Act's national security letter authority is almost without limit," Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), Jr., D-Mich., said in announcing the hearings. "This report demonstrates how that potential has now become a reality.
In 2001, the Patriot Act eliminated any requirement that the records belong to someone under suspicion. Now an innocent person's records can be obtained if FBI field agents consider them merely relevant to an ongoing terrorism or spying investigation.
In 2000, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 requests. That number peaked in 2004 with 56,000. Overall, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 requests in national security letters between 2003 and 2005. In 2005, 53 percent were for records of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
WASHINGTON - Congress wants to know how the FBI illegally or improperly gathered telephone, e-mail and financial records of Americans and foreigners while chasing terrorists.