Nadler Introduces Bipartisan Stop Self-Authorized Secret Searches Act

May 25, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) today introduced legislation to provide crucial checks against the unprecedented and dangerous “national security letter” authority granted to the FBI under Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  Congressman Nadler was joined in introducing the Stop Self-Authorized Secret Searches Act by Republican Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Section 505 of the PATRIOT Act authorizes FBI field office directors to collect in secret almost limitless personal information from entities that are not under investigation themselves, but have customers whose records the government wants, simply by issuing a “national security letter” (NSL), which carries the weight of law simply on the weight of the FBI’s own assertion that the request is simply “relevant” to a national security investigation.  A judge’s approval is not required, nor is any other external check, such as a grand jury.  On top of that, the recipient of an NSL is forbidden from disclosing the demand to the targeted individual, and is forbidden even from consulting with an attorney.

The NSL gives the FBI unfettered and secret access to the target’s internet history, correspondence, and records from financial institutions, insurance companies, travel agencies, car dealerships, post offices, and more.

“We don’t want to take away the FBI’s ability to use NSLs,” Congressman Nadler said.  “But we do want to make sure that those targeted by NSLs enjoy the due process rights afforded them by the Constitution.  This bill protects Americans against unnecessary intrusion into their private lives, and more important, prevents abuse of power by the government.”

Section 505 has already been found by a court to be unconstitutional, both on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech, and because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.[1]

The bipartisan Stop Self-Authorized Secret Searches Act would:

  • Give the recipient of a NSL the right to challenge the letter and its nondisclosure requirement;
  • Place a time limit on the NSL gag order and allow for a court-approved extension (which the FBI director has already agreed is needed);
  • Give notice to the target of an NSL if the government seeks to use the records obtained from the NSL in a subsequent proceeding;
  • Give the recipient an opportunity to receive legal counsel, which the Department of Justice supports;
  • Give the recipient the opportunity to challenge the use of those records; and
  • Require the FBI to make public the number of NSLs it issues.


[1] Doe v. Ashcroft, 334 F.Supp.2d 471 (S.D.N.Y)