Unconstitutional Fishing Expeditions: The Massive Abuse Of Administrative Subpoenas By The Government

from the depressing dept

For years, we’ve talked about how the Justice Department has massively abused the “National Security Letters” (NSLs) process that lets it seek information from third parties without judicial oversight. At least with FBI NSLs, the FBI is required to release some (though not all) info on how they’re used, which is why we have some indication of how widely they’re abused. However, as Dave Kravets recently detailed in a fantastic article at Wired.com, the use of “administrative subpoenas” (NSLs are a form of administrative subpoena) allowing government officials to issue mandatory subpoenas to third parties with no oversight at all has become quite widespread. Even worse: most government agencies don’t seem to have any interest in revealing any data about them. In other words, if you thought the FBI was abusing NSLs, you should probably be even more concerned about some of these others administrative subpoenas.

Meet the administrative subpoena (.pdf): With a federal official’s signature, banks, hospitals, bookstores, telecommunications companies and even utilities and internet service providers — virtually all businesses — are required to hand over sensitive data on individuals or corporations, as long as a government agent declares the information is relevant to an investigation. Via a wide range of laws, Congress has authorized the government to bypass the Fourth Amendment — the constitutional guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that requires a probable-cause warrant signed by a judge.

In fact, there are roughly 335 federal statutes on the books (.pdf) passed by Congress giving dozens upon dozens of federal agencies the power of the administrative subpoena, according to interviews and government reports. (.pdf)

It’s worth reading Kravets’ full article, even if it is depressing. What amazes me is that we let this kind of stuff continue unabated. We’ve seen increasing surveillance and abuse over the years, but it seems that any time people push back on these processes, they’re brushed off because “OMG!Terrorists!” or something along those lines. It’s sad that we, as a country, seem so accepting of the government taking away basic Constitutional rights if it just screams something about terrorists and crime.

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Comments on “Unconstitutional Fishing Expeditions: The Massive Abuse Of Administrative Subpoenas By The Government”

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NoahVail (profile) says:

It's BeCause

Cause #1) Politicians profit on us believing the OnePartyGood/OnePartyBad myth.

Cause #2) The press ignores it’s entrustment to cover issues like this each and every day.

Cause #3) Most of our federally elected officials are chosen through marketing agencies.

Cause #4) The purchase of Federal Law through campaign contributions continues unabated.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: It's BeCause

I agree with #1.

#2 shouldn’t be since the press is really anyone that can publish, which today is everyone. It’s just that we (as a society) tend not to think that way and keep holding up only a few groups/people as “The” Press.

#3 is unfortunately true, but only insofar as that is all that makes it on the ballot. We keep voting for these clowns, so marketers keep putting them on. It’s like spam. We can hate it all we want, but as long as it’s still profitable, it will continue.

As for #4, I don’t like that politics has become so much about money, but I also loathe the idea of telling anyone whether as an individual or a group that they can’t spend money to get their ideas heard, and that is what campaign contributions really boil down to. I think one way to stop it is to have an election of our representatives after every bill they pass. Either they’ll continue passing bills left and right (draining their donors money to the point where none is left), or they’ll only pass bills rarely and hopefully only after careful consideration. Either way, I think we’d be better off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's BeCause

Point #2 ? The media, mainly the MSM, overwhelming promotes liberalism and civil liberties, yet under this President they have clearly under reported the abuses to civil rights.

Even Obama?s 2012 convention speech was vacant of civil liberty abusive points compared to his 2008 convention speech. No mention of this in the media.

Trevor DeBus (profile) says:

I think the problem is that most Americans don’t hear about these rules Congress is making regarding these letters until AFTER THE FACT. The reasons SOPA/PIPA/JIGGA/Whatever didn’t pass were because of the large amounts of public outcry that came before the votes took place. Here, most of these provisions were buried within other bills/statutes and got little to no air time beforehand. That and the fact that most “National Security” bills get rushed through for the sake of security, but no one really understands the repercussions until the laws have taken effect and affected some part of the population lead to situations where people scratch their heads and wonder why it’s “ok” for agencies to do this.

The other problem with National Security related laws is it is very hard to convince a congress or senate or executive to dial them back, because every one of their opponents will say they are weak on security and get them ousted in the next election. Once the cat is out of the bag, good luck getting it back in.

anonymous coward says:

ignorance is bliss...

i have been raising questions about these types of issues on a few different chat boards for a few years now, and i get responses from “idk go away” to “put your tin foil hat back on”. no one WANTS to know. if they do not know, they can keep living the happy, carefree, facebook posting lives they are comfortable with.

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