This morning, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont opened a full Judiciary Committee markup session on S. 1692, legislation to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act for another four years, until December of 2013. A video record of the committee meeting can be viewed here. In his introductory remarks, Senator Leahy made the following declaration regarding “national security letters,” the demands for personal records made by the FBI without 4th Amendment warrants:
"I have been concerned with the issue, especially with the oversight of NSLs. National Security Letters are an effective form of administrative subpoena. They don't require approval by a court, a grand jury or even a prosecutor. They are issued in secret, with a recipient's silence under penalty of law. But they allow the government to collect sensitive information such as personal financial records.
"As Congress expanded the NSL authority in recent years I raised concerns about how the FBI handles information it collects on Americans. I noted that with no real limits imposed by Congress, the FBI could store this information electronically and use it against everybody in this room for that matter, or use it for large-scale data mining operations. We now know from the Inspector General, the Inspector General appointed during the Bush administration, we know the NSL authority was significantly misused. In 2008, the Department of Justice's Inspector General issued a report on the FBI's use of NSLs revealing serious overcollection of information, an abuse of that authority."
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy has a great deal of control over the direction and outcome of the markup of surveillance legislation. To help him shepherd his general concern over national security letters into genuine reforms that meaningfully restrict NSL abuse, call Senator Leahy’s DC office at (202) 224-4242 and ask him to incorporate the strongest set of articulated reforms, those in S. 1686 — the JUSTICE Act.