For a while I had heard about the use of National Security Letters (NSL’s), but I didn’t fully understand what they were used for. After reading this post by the head of the Calyx Institue on the use of NSL’s (which then led me to this post, this post, and this post), I started to understand what the big deal is.
Apparently, the FBI, and assumedly other government organizations, are using National Security letters to demand constitutionally protected information from individuals, while at the same time making it impossible for the recipients of the NSL’s to protest. The FBI’s justification for this is that if they tell the individual their information is being collected, then they will alter their habits and/or destroy the information.
This whole situation is wrong from a number of perspectives.
First, there are three branches of government. All of them are meant to protect the People, but they all do it in different ways. The Executive branch protects the people against other people who wish to harm them. Organized groups of people. The Legislative branch protects the Executive branch from the People, and the People from the Executive branch. The Judicial branch protects the people from the Legislative branch and the Executive branch. Nice checks and balances: nobody gets hurt.
The FBI though (Executive branch), is overreaching. It is effectively acting as the Judicial, Legislative and Executive branch all at once. From a constitutional perspective, this is illegal. What I mean by this is that the FBI is working without the oversight of Congress, or the direction of the courts. This means that even though the FBI might have had good intentions in regard to NSL’s to begin with, there is no guarantee they will stay honest in their use of them.
Second, the orders of the NSL’s are illogical. If you receive one, you should bring it to your lawyer. The same is true for any order from the government, whether it is a subpoena, a summons, or anything else along those lines.. However, the NSL’s make it illegal to talk to your lawyer. But if you don’t know what the NSL means, you bring it to your lawyer. Which means you broke the law. And on it goes. Catch 22. Nobody likes a Catch 22.
Finally, the people who are having their data seized should know about this. Unless they are terrorists. In which case you can use the PATRIOT ACT, or any other number of more strictly regulated and defined laws. All of those have been ruled constitutional (for the most part).
But NSL’s? They are illogical, illegal, and unethical.