[JURIST] The US Department of Defense (DOD) is circumventing legal limits on its relatively narrow power to issue so-called national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF] by getting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to use its broader NSL-issuing powers on the DOD's behalf, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said [press release] Tuesday. The report follows review of thousands of documents [ACLU archive] released to the ACLU by the military as part of a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed by the ACLU last June to compel the DOD and CIA to hand over documents relating to the organizations' use of NSLs to obtain personal records. After reviewing the documents, the ACLU also concluded Tuesday that, contrary to previous claims, DOD use of NSLs has not been limited to investigation of military employees, and that the military failed to keep track of how many NSLs it had issued or what information had been obtained.
NSLs, which are used to obtain financial, telephone and Internet records without court approval, are issued secretly by the government. Under the Patriot Act, FBI-issued NSLs require mandatory compliance, but recipients of a military NSL are not required to comply in all circumstances. Both the FBI and the military have come under fire separately for improper use of NSLs. Last month, the Department of Justice released a follow-up review [JURIST report] citing increases in FBI abuse of NSLs in 2006, up from similar abuses reported between 2003 and 2005, but also recognizing recent efforts by the FBI to establish new draft guidelines [JURIST report] in 2007. The ACLU had chided the military for NSL abuse [JURIST report] in October, but had not yet reviewed all of the documents released by the military in connection with its 2007 lawsuit. AP has more.