Conyers: FBI's Patriot abuses 'potentially without limit'
Democratic leaders in Congress speedily announced this morning that they would conduct thorough oversight on reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation overstepped the boundaries of its authority under the Patriot Act. The head of the House Judiciary Committee warned that the potential for misconduct by the FBI "is almost without limit."
In a statement sent to RAW STORY, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, warned that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation had severely abused their already expansive powers under the Patriot Act by misusing National Security Letters to gain warrants for surveillance, as reported in multiple news sources today.
"Many of us have been saying that the potential for abuse of the Patriot Act's National Security Letter authority is almost without limit. This report demonstrates how that potential has now become a reality," the Judiciary chairman said. "The Justice Department's total lack of internal control and cavalier attitude toward the few legal restrictions that exist in the Act have possibly resulted in the illegal seizure of American citizens' private information."
Pointing to the FBI's potentially illegal use of the National Security Letters, as well as poor record-keeping and inaccurate reporting by the agency, Conyers promised oversight and legislative change.
"The Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on this issue and will also examine what legislative steps are needed to ensure that our personal information is not gathered haphazardly," he said.
In the Senate, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) promised in another statement to work with the chairs of the Intelligence and Judiciary Commitees, Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to conduct "full and prompt investigations...[and] sensible reforms to help prevent future abuses of National Security Letters."
"This report proves that 'trust us' doesn't cut it when it comes to the government's power to obtain Americans' sensitive business records without a court order and without any suspicion that they are tied to terrorism or espionage," Feingold added.
In a press release sent to RAW STORY, Caroline Frederickson, Director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, said that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must be held to account for the abuses of FBI authority.
"As the overseer of the FBI, the buck stops on his desk," she said. "It's the Attorney General's job to oversee the FBI and he clearly lacks the independence or credibility to offer effective oversight."
Frederickson added, "How much more proof does Congress need before it conducts real investigations, performs true oversight and fixes the significant problems with these Patriot Act powers?"