February 24, 2018

Mueller Begs Congress To Retain FBI’s Patriot Act Powers

By LJ Staff

After disclosure that the FBI had abused investigative power given under the USA Patriot Act, FBI Director Robert Mueller went before Congress this week in attempt to convince lawmakers that the FBI should retain the authority to gather telephone, email, and financial records without court approval. Lawmakers, however, seemed less than receptive to Mueller’s explanation that the FBI was at fault, not the law. According to the Associated Press, Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT) said that Congress would be "re-examining the broad authorities we granted the FBI in the Patriot Act." The hearing followed a Department of Justice report that found the FBI abused its power under the USA PATRIOT Act to seek records using National Security Letters (NSLs). According to the report, investigators in the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the FBI "used NSLs in violation of applicable NSL statutes, Attorney General guidelines and internal FBI policies." Investigators said the FBI also violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) when it issued "at least 739 ‘exigent letters’ to obtain telephone toll billing records and subscriber information from three telephone companies without first issuing NSLs." The report also noted instances in which the FBI sought or obtained "information to which it was not entitled under the NSL authorities, calling these incidents "clear and quite extreme violations of NSL statutes." Mueller said the letters are "an indispensable tool for our conduct of terrorism investigations." Leahy however, expressed "very serious qualms."