Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
National Security Letters Just Got a Little More Transparent
Friday, June 29, 2012 - 10:13 AM
For journalists like the OTM crew, who report regularly on government transparency and the 4th Amendment, National security letters (NSL) are maddeningly opaque. The letters, issued by the FBI, are often sent to telcos, internet service providers, and other online entities (Twitter being a notorious example) to subpoena user information. They require no judicial oversight or probable cause. They also contain a preemptive gag order, which disallows a letter's recipient from even acknowledging they received one.
But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act by the American Civil Liberties Union, NSLs just got a tiny bit more transparent. The Justice Department has made public the templates they use for National Security Letters.
In a comprehensive article on the debate surrounding the NSLs and the government's domestic surveillance doctrine, The Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Valentino-Devries notes that while these templates give us a better idea of what NSL recipients are facing, "key elements of the letters remain blocked from view – including lists of material the FBI says companies can send in response to the letter."
We have, on our show, talked about NSLs a couple of times (audio below), and while these NSL templates are frustratingly redacted, it's still shining a little light on the government's process in issuing the letters.