Google has been ordered by a federal judge to give the FBI data on certain customers as part of a national security investigation. You may not read about this every day, but it happens on a daily basis. The federal government forces merchants of information to give up private information in order to investigate citizens and non-citizens alike.
Every year, the FBI sends National Security Letters to banks, telephone and internet companies. It does so to request information on customers. These letters are authorized by the Patriot Act. While they aren’t sealed, recipients are expected to keep the letters confidential. In fact, it’s the law. But there is no judicial review of the request letters. You heard that right, the Warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to these informational requests because courts have assumed that Americans don’t hold a reasonable expectation of privacy in their records.
The strangest part is that a search and seizure of a phone, bank or internet record requires judicial review, probable cause and a warrant. But not when the feds go after your information from the information facilitator.
In California, a U.S. District Judge recently ruled for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a similar circumstance. The court held that the letters requiring disclosure of private information violate free speech rights. But the case is currently being appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
These letters issued by the FBI can be used to collect unlimited kinds of private information, such as financial and phone records. The FBI sent 16,111 letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011. Yet, in 2007, the Justice Department’s inspector general found widespread violations by the FBI.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The seizing of personal records without a warrant or judicial review, whether they be on the individual end or on the service provider side is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. If probable cause exists that a crime has or will be committed, than an administrative judge or a federal magistrate should be appointed to determine whether the warrant should be issued. But unilateral subpoena powers being used by the government against its own people is unconstitutional and it needs to stop.
In case you didn’t have ten reasons to repeal the Patriot Act already, here is another. A people shouldn’t allow their government to unilaterally investigate them. Repeal the Patriot Act.