FBI Privacy Abuses Rose in 2006

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Top-level FBI counterterrorism executives issued improper blanket demands in 2006 for records of 3,860 telephone lines to justify the fact that agents already had obtained the data using an illegal procedure that is now prohibited, the Justice Department inspector general reported Thursday.

Glenn A. Fine also reported that in one case FBI anti-terrorism agents circumvented a federal court which twice had refused a warrant for personal records because the judges believed the agents were investigating conduct protected by the First Amendment. Fine said the agents got the records using national security letters, which do not require a judge's approval, without altering or re-examining the basis of their suspicions — the target's association with others under investigation.

These findings were highlighted in Fine's second report in two years on how the FBI has used broad authority to gather personal information about Americans granted by the USA Patriot Act and other statutes since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Overall, Fine's new report found, as expected, that FBI privacy abuse during terrorism investigations continued to rise in 2006. He reserved judgment on whether corrective actions under way will work.

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