The Justice Department Inspector General today issued a highly anticipated report on the FBI’s illegal collection of phone records, declaring the crimes an “egregious breakdown” of the system involving “startling” methods of violating privacy laws and established policy.
The 289-page report detailed hundreds of FBI demands for phone records between 2002 and 2006, in which agents sent letters claiming phony “terrorism emergencies” so as to circumvent the need for subpoenas.
In many cases, the FBI entirely made up the claims of an ongoing investigation, and the report suggests that in several cases they explicitly lied to courts about where the data obtained from illegal searches came from.
The problem was compounded by the fact that employees for three major telecom companies had offices at the FBI’s communications analysis unit, and there was virtually no oversight over actions between them and the FBI officials.
The report says that over 3,500 phone numbers may have been involved in the illegal searches, but the full extent will never be known, according to the report, because of “sketchy record-keeping” by the FBI.
The powers abused by the FBI stem from a provision in the Patriot Act, and several members of Congress suggested the report would add momentum to efforts to revise the law, set to expire in February, President Obama has demanded that the law be extended, but officials have said he would consider limited civil rights protections “as long as they don’t weaken” the president’s power.