In 2001, the Patriot Act was passed and it gave the government the authority to do a search without ever talking to a judge or getting a warrant, just by issuing a “National Security Letter.” And when they issued it, the recipient had to comply and they could not inform the subject of the search that they had been searched.
In 2006, we found out that throughout 2004 and 2005 the FBI had abused the procedure hundreds of times, but they assured us that the situation had been fixed. And in 2008, we found out that the abuse had continued throughout 2006. But don’t worry, because they really did have it fixed that time and it wouldn’t be happening anymore.
Now in 2009, the government admits that the NSLs, which were intended only to apply to terrorism investigations, were not used for terrorism more than 99% of the time in 2008.
Only three of the 763 “sneak-and-peek” requests in fiscal year 2008 involved terrorism cases, according to a July 2009 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Sixty-five percent were drug cases.
But don’t worry. This time they aren’t even pretending that the problem has been fixed because this is all just fine:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) quizzed Assistant Attorney General David Kris about the discrepancy at a hearing on the PATRIOT Act Wednesday. One might expect Kris to argue that there is a connection between drug trafficking and terrorism or that the administration is otherwise justified to use the authority by virtue of some other connection to terrorism.
He didn’t even try. “This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence. It’s for criminal cases. So I guess it’s not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases,” Kris said.
“As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act,” Feingold quipped, “which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism it didn’t have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I’m concerned about these numbers: That’s not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ’s website in 2005 as being necessary – quote – to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists.”
Kris responded by saying that some courts had already granted the Justice Department authority to conduct sneak-and-peeks. But Feingold countered that the PATRIOT Act codified and expanded that authority — all under the guise of the war on terror.
Feingold, the lone vote against the PATRIOT Act when it was first passed, is introducing an amendment to curb its reach. “I’m going to say it’s quite extraordinary to grant government agents the statutory authority to secretly break into Americans homes,” he said.
Feingold is the only consistent voice in the Senate against this kind of abuse.