“Last week, the FBI did something unusual: It invited civil liberties groups to FBI headquarters to work on a draft of new guidelines for the use of National Security Letters (NSLs). The letters are special subpoenas the FBI can issue, without a court order, that permit agents to search telephone, e-mail and financial records. Nobody expected to leave the room satisfied and happy, but just the fact that the two sides sat down together marked a big change.
“This week, FBI Director Robert Mueller is going a step further. In an interview with NPR, Mueller said that last week’s meetings went so well, he wants to get personally involved. He plans to invite privacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for National Security Studies in the coming weeks to sit down with him and try to reach some common ground on use guidelines and other aspects of the subpoenas that have been troubling.”
The meeting comes a month after revelations that the FBI was abusing its National Security Letters power under the Patriot Act, which allows the agency to obtain individuals’ private information without any court oversight.
Attending the meeting on behalf of the ACLU was Mike German, a sixteen-year veteran of the FBI, who joined the ACLU last fall as Policy Counsel on National Security, Immigration and Privacy. According to the NPR article, German believes the FBI is motivated by fears that it will loose it’s NSL powers completely.
“It’s not as if there weren’t rules of the road before,” he said. “The law was very clear about how it could be used and when it could be used. And they just simply didn’t follow the law. So there’s nothing to show that they will follow new guidelines any more than they follow the old guidelines.”
Still, it’s not every day the ACLU gets invited to give advice to the FBI.
Sara in Philly