Privacy Media Articles
Excerpts of Key Privacy Media Articles from Major Media
Below are many highly revealing excerpts of important privacy articles reported in the mainstream media suggesting a cover-up.
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For an index to revealing excerpts of media articles on several dozen engaging topics, click here
A chip on my shoulder
2007-08-12, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The ability to blend vast databases containing personal information -- and the sophistication of tracking devices that can announce your presence along with myriad vital statistics when you cross a bridge or enter a room -- have brought Americans to a crossroads. Do we shrug and concede that privacy is lost -- "get over it," as one titan of tech declared so bluntly? Or do we look for ways to draw the line, to identify means and places where employers and governments should not dare to tread? One such place: Our bodies. Life has begun to imitate art -- as in the futuristic film "Minority Report" -- with the refinement of toothpick-thick microchips that can be implanted in your arm and packed with loads of personally identifiable information that can be beamed to the world. These radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices -- or "talking bar codes" -- amount to miniature antennas that transmit the types of information that might otherwise be held on a swipe card. Even if you've shrugged through the debates about warrantless wiretapping and said "what the heck" at the prospect that everything from your spending habits to your Web site travels are being compiled and crunched for commercial purposes, you might think twice about letting your employer insert a microchip under your skin as a condition of getting a job. As of today, it is both a technical and a legal possibility. Just last year, a ... provider of video-surveillance equipment inserted ... microchips into the arms of two employees. Those two workers volunteered, but it's not hard to imagine the lightbulbs going off in Corporate America. Is Joe really making a sales call or is he taking in a baseball game at AT&T Park? How many smoke breaks is Mary taking? Amazingly, there is no California law against "chipping" workers as a condition of employment.
Note: For many reliable reports from the major media on the potential dangers of microchips, click here.
China Enacting a High-Tech Plan to Track People
2007-08-12, New York Times
At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets here [in Shenzhen] in southern China and will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity. Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card. Security experts describe China’s plans as the world’s largest effort to meld cutting-edge computer technology with police work to track the activities of a population. But they say the technology can be used to violate civil rights. “We have a very good relationship with U.S. companies like I.B.M., Cisco, H.P., Dell,” said Robin Huang, the chief operating officer of China Public Security. “All of these U.S. companies work with us to build our system together.” The role of American companies in helping Chinese security forces has periodically been controversial in the United States. Executives from Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems testified in February 2006 at a Congressional hearing called to review whether they had deliberately designed their systems to help the Chinese state muzzle dissidents on the Internet; they denied having done so.
US doles out millions for street cameras
2007-08-12, Boston Globe
The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a "surveillance society" in which the sense of freedom that stems from being anonymous in public will be lost, privacy rights advocates warn. The department ... has doled out millions on surveillance cameras, transforming city streets and parks into places under constant observation. A Globe [investigation] shows that a large number of new surveillance systems, costing at least tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars, are being simultaneously installed around the country as part of homeland security grants. Federal money is helping New York, Baltimore, and Chicago build massive surveillance systems that may also link thousands of privately owned security cameras. Boston has installed about 500 cameras in the MBTA system, funded in part with homeland security funds. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said [the] Homeland Security Department is the primary driver in spreading surveillance cameras, making their adoption more attractive by offering federal money to city and state leaders. The proliferation of cameras could mean that Americans will feel less free because legal public behavior -- attending a political rally, entering a doctor's office, or even joking with friends in a park -- will leave a permanent record, retrievable by authorities at any time.
Same Agencies to Run, Oversee Surveillance Program
2007-08-07, Washington Post
The Bush administration plans to leave oversight of its expanded foreign eavesdropping program to the same government officials who supervise the surveillance activities and to the intelligence personnel who carry them out, senior government officials said yesterday. The law, which permits intercepting Americans' calls and e-mails without a warrant if the communications involve overseas transmission, gives Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales responsibility for creating the broad procedures determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected. It also gives McConnell and Gonzales the role of assessing compliance with those procedures. The law ... does not contain provisions for outside oversight -- unlike an earlier House measure that called for audits every 60 days by the Justice Department's inspector general. The controversial changes to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were approved by both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Congress despite privacy concerns raised by Democratic leaders and civil liberties advocacy groups. Central to the new program is the collection of foreign intelligence from "communication service providers," which the officials declined to identify, citing secrecy concerns. Under the new law, the attorney general is required to draw up the governing procedures for surveillance activity, for approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Once the procedures are established, the attorney general and director of national intelligence will formally certify that the collection of data is authorized. But the certification will be placed under seal "unless the certification is necessary to determine the legality of the acquisition," according to the law signed by Bush.
Bush administration defends spy law
2007-08-07, Los Angeles Times
The Bush administration rushed to defend new espionage legislation Monday amid growing concern that the changes could lead to increased spying by U.S. intelligence agencies on American citizens. But officials declined to provide details about how the new capabilities might be used by the National Security Agency and other spy services. And in many cases, they could point only to internal monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuse of the new rules that appear to give the government greater authority to tap into the traffic flowing across U.S. telecommunications networks. Officials rejected assertions that the new capabilities would enable the government to cast electronic "drift nets" that might ensnare U.S. citizens [and] that the new legislation would amount to the expansion of a controversial — and critics contend unconstitutional — warrantless wiretapping program that President Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks. Intelligence experts said there were an array of provisions in the new legislation that appeared to make it possible for the government to engage in intelligence-collection activities that the Bush administration officials were discounting. "They are trying to shift the terms of the debate to their intentions and away from the meaning of the new law," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. "The new law gives them authority to do far more than simply surveil foreign communications abroad," he said. "It expands the surveillance program beyond terrorism to encompass foreign intelligence. It permits the monitoring of communications of a U.S. person as long as he or she is not the primary target. And it effectively removes judicial supervision of the surveillance process."
The Fear of Fear Itself
2007-08-07, New York Times
It was appalling to watch over the last few days as Congress — now led by Democrats — caved in to yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights. Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security. What [do] the Democrats ... plan to do with their majority in Congress if they are too scared of Republican campaign ads to use it to protect the Constitution and restrain an out-of-control president[?] The White House and its allies on Capitol Hill railroaded Congress into voting a vast expansion of the president’s powers. They gave the director of national intelligence and the attorney general authority to intercept — without warrant, court supervision or accountability — any telephone call or e-mail message that moves in, out of or through the United States as long as there is a “reasonable belief” that one party is not in the United States. While serving little purpose, the new law has real dangers. It would allow the government to intercept, without a warrant, every communication into or out of any country, including the United States. The Democratic majority has made strides on other issues like children’s health insurance against White House opposition. As important as these measures are, they do not excuse the Democrats from remedying the damage Mr. Bush has done to civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. That is their most important duty.
Bush Signs Law to Widen Legal Reach for Wiretapping
2007-08-06, New York Times
President Bush signed into law ... legislation that broadly [expands] the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants. The law [goes] far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists [and will] sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States. The new law for the first time [provides] a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens. “This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington. Previously, the government needed search warrants approved by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on ... electronic communications between individuals inside the United States and people overseas. The new law gives the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to approve the international surveillance, rather than the special intelligence court. The law also gave the administration greater power to force telecommunications companies to cooperate with such spying operations. The companies can now be compelled to cooperate by orders from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.
Ruling Limited Spying Efforts
2007-08-03, Washington Post
A federal intelligence court judge earlier this year secretly declared a key element of the Bush administration's wiretapping efforts illegal, according to a lawmaker and government sources, providing a previously unstated rationale for fevered efforts by congressional lawmakers this week to expand the president's spying powers. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) disclosed elements of the court's decision in remarks ... to Fox News as he was promoting the administration-backed wiretapping legislation. The judge, whose name could not be learned, concluded early this year that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States. The decision was both a political and practical blow to the administration, which had long held that all of the National Security Agency's enhanced surveillance efforts since 2001 were legal. The administration for years had declined to subject those efforts to the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and after it finally did so in January the court ruled that the administration's legal judgment was at least partly wrong. The practical effect has been to block the NSA's efforts to collect information from a large volume of foreign calls and e-mails that passes through U.S. communications nodes clustered around New York and California. Both Democrats and Republicans have signaled they are eager to fix that problem through amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). An unstated facet of the program is that anyone the foreigner is calling inside the United States, as long as that person is not the primary target, would also be wiretapped.
Stampeding Congress, Again
2007-08-03, New York Times
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not feel bound by the law or the Constitution. It cannot even be trusted to properly use the enhanced powers it was legally granted after the attacks. Yet, once again, President Bush has been trying to stampede Congress into a completely unnecessary expansion of his power to spy on Americans. The fight is over the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping on electronic communications that involve someone in the United States. Mr. Bush decided after 9/11 that he was no longer going to obey that law. He authorized the National Security Agency to intercept international telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans and other residents of this country without a court order. He told the public nothing and Congress next to nothing about what he was doing, until The Times disclosed the spying in December 2005. Ever since, the White House has tried to pressure Congress into legalizing Mr. Bush’s rogue operation. The administration and its ... supporters in Congress argue that American intelligence is blinded by FISA and have seized on neatly timed warnings of heightened terrorist activity to scare everyone. It is vital for Americans, especially lawmakers, to resist that argument. It is pure propaganda. [The question at issue is] whether we are a nation ruled by law, or the whims of men in power.
A Push to Rewrite Wiretap Law
2007-08-01, Washington Post
The Bush administration is pressing Congress this week for the authority to intercept, without a court order, any international phone call or e-mail between a surveillance target outside the United States and any person in the United States. It would also give the attorney general sole authority to order the interception of communications for up to one year as long as he certifies that the surveillance is directed at a person outside the United States. Civil liberties and privacy groups have denounced the administration's proposal, which they say would effectively allow the National Security Agency to revive a warrantless surveillance program conducted in secret from 2001 until late 2005. They say it would also give the government authority to force carriers to turn over any international communications into and out of the United States without a court order. An unstated facet of the program is that anyone the foreigner is calling inside the United States, as long as that person is not the primary target, would also be wiretapped. Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office [said], "What the administration is really going after is the Americans. Even if the primary target is overseas, they want to be able to wiretap Americans without a warrant." The proposal would also allow the NSA to ... have access to the entire stream of communications without the phone company sorting, said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. "It's a 'trust us' system," she said. "Give us access and trust us."
NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort
2007-08-01, Washington Post
The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described. The disclosure by Mike McConnell [is] the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005. McConnell [disclosed] that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more. This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged." News reports ... have detailed a range of activities linked to the program, including the use of data mining to identify surveillance targets and the participation of telecommunication companies in turning over millions of phone records. Kate Martin ... of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that ... administration officials have "repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public" about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts. "They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," Martin said. "Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?"
FBI Proposes Building Network of U.S. Informants
2007-07-25, ABC News blog
The FBI is taking cues from the CIA to recruit thousands of covert informants in the United States as part of a sprawling effort to boost its intelligence capabilities. According to a recent unclassified report to Congress, the FBI expects its informants to provide secrets about possible terrorists and foreign spies, although some may also be expected to aid with criminal investigations, in the tradition of law enforcement confidential informants. The FBI said the push was driven by a 2004 directive from President Bush ordering the bureau to improve its counterterrorism efforts by boosting its human intelligence capabilities. The aggressive push for more secret informants appears to be part of a new effort to grow its intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. Other recent proposals include expanding its collection and analysis of data on U.S. persons, retaining years' worth of Americans' phone records and even increasing so-called "black bag" secret entry operations.
To handle the increase in so-called human sources, the FBI also plans to overhaul its database system, so it can manage records and verify the accuracy of information from "more than 15,000" informants, according to the document. The bureau has arranged to use elements of CIA training to teach FBI agents about "Source Targeting and Development," the report states. The courses will train FBI special agents on the "comprehensive tradecraft" needed to identify, recruit and manage these "confidential human sources."
Alarm at US right to highly personal data
2007-07-22, The Observer (U.K.)
Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex life of Britons travelling to the United States is to be made available to US authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers. The EC is in the final stages of agreeing a new Passenger Name Record system with the US which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports. Civil liberty groups warn it will have serious consequences for European passengers. In a strongly worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the 4 million-plus Britons who travel to the US every year, the EU parliament said it 'notes with concern that sensitive data (ie personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of individuals) will be made available to the DHS.' The US will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three year limit. The EU parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to 'a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US congress.' Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, has written to the EC expressing his 'grave concern' at the plan, which he describes as 'without legal precedent' and one that puts 'European data protection rights at risk'. Hustinx warns: 'Data on EU citizens will be readily accessible to a broad range of US agencies and there is no limitation to what US authorities are allowed to do with the data.'
In Intelligence World, A Mute Watchdog
2007-07-15, Washington Post
An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress. The President's Intelligence Oversight Board -- the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community -- is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes "may be unlawful." The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration. The board's mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job. "It's now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most," said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board's chairman for most of the Clinton administration. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) added: "It is deeply disturbing that this administration seems to spend so much of its energy and resources trying to find ways to ignore any check and balance on its authority and avoid accountability to Congress and the American public."
'Code Orange' for press freedom
2007-07-15, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The arguments against a federal shield law might be frightening if they were not so ludicrous.
There are two ways to reassure yourself that legislation to allow journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources will not be exploited by terrorists, thugs, identity thieves, sleazy sleuths and anarchists who expose trade secrets.
One is to look at the experience of 49 state laws that grant varying levels of protection for journalists using anonymous sources.
The other is to read the bill.
"The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007,'' sponsored by Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rick Boucher, D-Va., does not provide an absolute right for journalists to protect their sources. Under their HR2102, a journalist could be forced by the courts to reveal his or her source if the disclosure involved:
-- A threat to national security.
-- A threat of imminent death or significant [bodily] harm to a person.
-- A trade secret of significant value.
-- Personal financial or health information.
[The] Justice Department, which has wielded subpoenas and threats of jail time against journalists in pursuing government leaks, has never liked the idea of a shield law. So it was hardly a surprise when it recently testified against HR2102. What was eye-poppingly outrageous was a Justice official's straight-faced attempt to suggest that criminals or terrorists would invoke the bill's protection for journalists to thwart prosecutors.
"Totally absurd," House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said of the terrorism argument. However, the dangers that overzealous prosecutors pose to a free and independent press that Pence calls "essential to an informed" electorate are very real and growing. As Pence put it, "there may never be another Deep Throat" if whistle-blowers become worried that journalists cannot keep a promise of confidentiality.
FBI Plans Initiative To Profile Terrorists
2007-07-11, Washington Post
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is developing a computer-profiling system that would enable investigators to target possible terror suspects. The System to Assess Risk, or STAR, assigns risk scores to possible suspects based on a variety of information, similar to the way a credit bureau assigns a rating based on a consumer's spending behavior and debt. The program focuses on foreign suspects but also includes data about some U.S. residents. Some lawmakers said ... that the report raises new questions about the government's power to use personal information and intelligence without accountability. "The Bush administration has expanded the use of this technology, often in secret, to collect and sift through Americans' most sensitive personal information," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The use of data mining in the war on terror has sparked criticism. An airplane-passenger screening program called CAPPS II was revamped and renamed because of civil liberty concerns. An effort to collect Americans' personal and financial data called Total Information Awareness was killed. Law enforcement and national security officials have continued working on other programs to use computers to sift through information for signs of threats. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, flags travelers entering and leaving the United States who may be potential suspects through a risk-assessment program called the Automated Targeting System.
FBI Would Skirt the Law With Proposed Phone Record Program, Experts Say
2007-07-10, ABC News blog
A proposed new FBI program would skirt federal laws by paying private companies to hold millions of phone and Internet records which the bureau is barred from keeping itself, experts say. The $5 million project would apparently pay private firms to store at least two years' worth of telephone and Internet activity by millions of Americans, few of whom would ever be considered a suspect in any terrorism, intelligence or criminal matter. The FBI is barred by law from collecting and storing such data if it has no connection to a specific investigation or intelligence matter. In recent years the bureau has tried to encourage telecommunications firms to voluntarily store such information, but corporations have balked at the cost of keeping records they don't need. "The government isn't allowed to warehouse the information, and the companies don't want to, so this creates a business incentive for the companies to warehouse it, so the government can access it later," said Mike German, a policy expert on national security and privacy issues for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "It's a public-private partnership that puts civil liberties to the test." In March, an FBI official identified the companies as Verizon, MCI and AT&T. Even the bureau's own top lawyer said she found the [FBI's] behavior "disturbing," noting that when requesting access to phone company records, it repeatedly referenced "emergency" situations that did not exist, falsely claimed grand juries had subpoenaed information and failed to keep records on much of its own activity.
Judges OK warrantless monitoring of Web use
2007-07-07, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Federal agents do not need a search warrant to monitor a suspect's computer use and determine the e-mail addresses and Web pages the suspect is contacting, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. In a drug case from San Diego County, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco likened computer surveillance to the "pen register" devices that officers use to pinpoint the phone numbers a suspect dials, without listening to the phone calls themselves. In Friday's ruling, the court said computer users should know that they lose privacy protections with e-mail and Web site addresses when they are communicated to the company whose equipment carries the messages. The search is no more intrusive than officers' examination of a list of phone numbers or the outside of a mailed package, neither of which requires a warrant, Judge Raymond Fisher said in the 3-0 ruling. Defense lawyer Michael Crowley disagreed. His client, Dennis Alba, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of operating a laboratory in Escondido that manufactured the drug ecstasy. Some of the evidence against Alba came from agents' tracking of his computer use. The court upheld his conviction and sentence. Expert evidence in Alba's case showed that the Web addresses obtained by federal agents included page numbers that allowed the agents to determine what someone read online, Crowley said. The ruling "further erodes our privacy," the attorney said. "The great political marketplace of ideas is the Internet, and the government has unbridled access to it."
Note: So now every email you send and read can be monitored legally. Why didn't this make news headlines?
Lawsuit Against Wiretaps Rejected
2007-07-07, Washington Post
A federal appeals court removed a serious legal challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program yesterday, overruling the only judge who held that a controversial surveillance effort by the National Security Agency was unconstitutional. Two members of a three-judge panel ... ordered the dismissal of a major lawsuit that challenged the wiretapping, which President Bush authorized secretly to eavesdrop on communications ... shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The court did not rule on the spying program's legality. Instead, it declared that the American Civil Liberties Union and the others who brought the case -- including academics, lawyers and journalists -- did not have the standing to sue because they could not demonstrate that they had been direct targets of the clandestine surveillance. The decision vacates a ruling in the case made last August by a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit, who ruled that the administration's program to monitor private communications violated the Bill of Rights and a 1970s federal law. Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, said: "As a result of today's decision, the Bush administration has been left free to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress adopted almost 30 years ago to prevent the executive branch from engaging in precisely this kind of unchecked surveillance."
FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data
2007-06-14, Washington Post
An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism. The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002. The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files. Two dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents' requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have. The results confirmed what ... critics feared, namely that many agents did not ... follow the required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information with one of the most sensitive and powerful intelligence-gathering tools of the post-Sept. 11 era -- the National Security Letter, or NSL. Such letters are uniformly secret and amount to nonnegotiable demands for personal information -- demands that are not reviewed in advance by a judge. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress substantially eased the rules for issuing NSLs, [leading] to an explosive growth in the use of the letters. More than 19,000 such letters were issued in 2005 seeking 47,000 pieces of information, mostly from telecommunications companies.