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Rep. Nadler introduces National Security Letters Reform Act

Congressman Jerrold Nadler

Congressman Jerrold Nadler

From Rep. Nadler’s press release:

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, along with Reps. Jeff Flake (AZ-06), William Delahunt (MA-10) and Ron Paul (TX-14), today reintroduced the National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009, a bipartisan bill designed to provide crucial checks against the overreaching and dangerous National Security Letter (NSL) authority vastly expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act. A NSL allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect – in secret and without judicial approval – almost limitless personal information on any American, including records from telecommunications companies, financial institutions and insurance companies.

“The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009 is critical legislation for protecting Americans against government invasion of privacy and, generally, against any administration that would seek to abuse its power,” said Rep. Nadler. “It’s imperative that we reign in NSL authority to meet constitutional standards and restore essential checks and balances to our government. The FBI must follow the Constitution as it seeks to protect our national security. Passage of this bill would help keep our law enforcement focused on genuine threats while protecting Americans from unnecessary intrusions into their private lives.”

“This bill would restore vital Constitutional protections that were stripped away when Congress rushed the PATRIOT Act into law,” said Rep. Paul. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on this bill.”

“The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009 is important because it strikes the appropriate balance between privacy and freedom on the one hand and national security on the other,” said Rep. Delahunt. “I am pleased to join with Congressmen Nadler, Flake and Paul to introduce a bipartisan bill that ensures that the use of NSLs in intelligence investigations is done in a manner consistent with our Constitution and sound public policy.”

This bipartisan bill would address many of the abuses disclosed by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General in two reports (in 2007 and 2008). While the past couple of years have yielded internal FBI improvements, the need for statutory reform remains. The bill would both protect our privacy and national security by, among other changes, restoring the standard that records sought must relate to a suspected terrorist or spy, giving a NSL recipient a meaningful right to challenge the NSL and its nondisclosure requirement, placing a time limit on a NSL gag order and allowing for court-approved extensions, and requiring minimization procedures to ensure that information obtained pursuant to a NSL regarding individuals no longer of official interest be destroyed.

With portions of the USA PATRIOT Act scheduled to sunset this year, now is an opportune moment to enact these important changes to statutes and procedures regarding NSLs.

HT: Neal Sonnett

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.