The Los Angeles Times and numerous media outlets are discussing a new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General concerning the FBI’s use of “exigent letters” to obtain phone records. (6 MB pdf from Justice Department; archive link here) The Washington Post broke the news about this report a couple days ago.
The FBI used a variety of controversial and possibly illegal methods to obtain phone records in terrorism investigations, according to a sharply critical report issued Wednesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The report by the department’s independent watchdog office said the tactics were used by the FBI from 2002 to 2006 and approved by officials at the highest levels of the bureau, including at least four top counter-terrorism officials.
In an apparent effort to cut corners, the FBI informally — and improperly — used emergency “exigent letters” to phone service providers to obtain at least 2,000 phone records, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said in the 289-page report.
The report described some of the methods as “troubling” and “startling,” including claiming fake emergencies and sending requests via e-mail and Post-it notes. The report said the techniques amounted to an “egregious breakdown” of the FBI’s oversight of the program. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress made it easier for FBI agents to get phone records in certain emergency circumstances when trying to thwart terrorist plots and attacks. […]
In response, the FBI issued a statement saying that its agents were working under great stress in trying to run down numerous leads and thwart potential terrorist attacks and that they did not intentionally violate the law. The practice was “limited and discontinued,” and the records in question involved only billing records as opposed to access to what was actually discussed in the calls, the FBI said.
EFF has a great analysis of this. Read it here.