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[IWS] CRS: National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: Legal Background [3 January 2014]

IWS Documented News Service

_______________________________

Institute for Workplace Studies----------------- Professor Samuel B. Bacharach

School of Industrial & Labor Relations-------- Director, Institute for Workplace Studies

Cornell University

16 East 34th Street, 4th floor---------------------- Stuart Basefsky

New York, NY 10016 -------------------------------Director, IWS News Bureau

________________________________________________________________________

 

Congressional Research Service (CRS)

 

National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: Legal Background

Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist in American Public Law

January 3, 2014

https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RL33320.pdf

[full-text, 43 pages]

 

Summary

Five federal statutes authorize intelligence officials to request certain business record information

in connection with national security investigations. The authority to issue these national security

letters (NSLs) is comparable to the authority to issue administrative subpoenas. The USA

PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56) expanded the authority under four of the NSL statutes and created the

fifth. Thereafter, the authority has been reported to have been widely used. Prospects of its

continued use dimmed, however, after two lower federal courts held that the lack of judicial

review and the absolute confidentiality requirements in one of the statutes rendered it

constitutionally suspect.

 

A report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General (IG) found that in its pre-amendment

use of expanded USA PATRIOT Act authority the FBI had “used NSLs in violation of applicable

NSL statutes, Attorney General Guidelines, and internal FBI policies,” but that no criminal laws

had been broken. A year later, a second IG report confirmed the findings of the first, and noted the

corrective measures taken in response. A third IG report, critical of the FBI’s use of exigent letters

and informal NSL alternatives, noted that the practice had been stopped and related problems

addressed.

 

The USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act (P.L. 109-177, and its companion, P.L.

109-178) amended the five NSL sections to expressly provide for judicial review of both the

NSLs and the confidentiality requirements that attend them. The sections have also been made

explicitly judicially enforceable and sanctions recognized for failure to comply with an NSL

request or to breach NSL confidentiality requirements with the intent to obstruct justice. The use

of the authority has been made subject to greater congressional oversight. Following amendment,

a federal district court found the amended procedure contrary to the demands of the First

Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, ruled that the amended

statutes could withstand constitutional scrutiny, if the government confined itself to a procedure

which requires (1) notice to the recipient of its option to object to a secrecy requirement; (2) upon

recipient objection, prompt judicial review at the government’s petition and burden; and (3)

meaningful judicial review without conclusive weight afforded a government certification of risk.

Using this procedure, the district court upheld continuation of the Doe nondisclosure requirement

following an ex parte, in camera hearing and granted the plaintiff’s motion for an unclassified,

redacted summary of the government declaration on which the court’s decision was based. More

recently, a district court in the Ninth Circuit agreed the amended nondisclosure and judicial

review provisions were constitutionally defective, but could not agree to the Second Circuit’s

narrowing construction or that the NSL statute could be saved by severing the deficient disclosure

provisions. The district court stayed its order enjoining issuance of further NSLs or enforcement

of any accompanying nondisclosure provisions, however, pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

 

The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies recommended

several NSL statutory adjustments designed to eliminate differences between NSLs and Section

215 orders (under P.L. 107-56), including requiring pre-issuance judicial approval of NSLs.

 

The text of the five provisions has been appended. This report is available abridged—without

footnotes, appendixes, and most of the citations to authority—as CRS Report RS22406, National

Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: A Glimpse at the Legal Background, by

Charles Doyle.

 

Contents

Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 1

Background ...................................................................................................................................... 2

Pre-amendment Judicial Action ................................................................................................. 7

NSL Amendments in the 109th Congress ................................................................................... 7

Post-Amendment NSL Attributes .................................................................................................... 8

Addressees and Certifying Officials .......................................................................................... 8

Purpose, Standards, Information Covered ................................................................................. 8

Confidentiality ........................................................................................................................... 9

Judicial Review and Enforcement ........................................................................................... 10

Dissemination .......................................................................................................................... 11

Liability, Fees and Oversight ................................................................................................... 11

Inspector General’s Reports ........................................................................................................... 13

The First IG Report ................................................................................................................. 13

Exigent Letters .................................................................................................................. 15

The Second IG Report ............................................................................................................. 16

The Third IG Report ................................................................................................................ 16

Post-Amendment Judicial Action .................................................................................................. 17

Recommendations of the President’s Review Group ..................................................................... 21

Appendixes .................................................................................................................................... 24

12 U.S.C. 3414 (text) ............................................................................................................... 24

18 U.S.C. 2709 (text) ............................................................................................................... 26

15 U.S.C. 1681u (text) ............................................................................................................. 28

15 U.S.C. 1681v (text) ............................................................................................................. 31

Section 802 of the National Security Act (50 U.S.C. 3162) (text) .......................................... 32

18 U.S.C. 1510 (text) ............................................................................................................... 34

P.L. 109-177, Section 118 (text) .............................................................................................. 34

P.L. 109-177, Section 119 (text) .............................................................................................. 35

18 U.S.C. 3511 (text) ............................................................................................................... 37

 

Tables

Table 1. Profile of the Current NSL Statutes ................................................................................. 12

 

Contacts

Author Contact Information........................................................................................................... 39

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

This information is provided to subscribers, friends, faculty, students and alumni of the School of Industrial & Labor Relations (ILR). It is a service of the Institute for Workplace Studies (IWS) in New York City. Stuart Basefsky is responsible for the selection of the contents which is intended to keep researchers, companies, workers, and governments aware of the latest information related to ILR disciplines as it becomes available for the purposes of research, understanding and debate. The content does not reflect the opinions or positions of Cornell University, the School of Industrial & Labor Relations, or that of Mr. Basefsky and should not be construed as such. The service is unique in that it provides the original source documentation, via links, behind the news and research of the day. Use of the information provided is unrestricted. However, it is requested that users acknowledge that the information was found via the IWS Documented News Service.

 

 




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