Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Better to ask Forgiveness...

National Security letters are interesting things. They don't have the force of law, but to most Americans, seeing a formal letter with the FBI's letterhead on it is little less than a subpoena, creating the perception that the target of the letter is not entitled to a hearing to contest it. These letters were used to get private information of countless American people during the Bush administration. One person who refused was charged - I've posted about it before, and I encourage y'all to look up Doe v. Ashcroft, but basically, the Court said "can't do it. We are troubled by the concept of the Executive Branch using its plenary power to determine what information is relevant. That's what Courts and warrants are for." You know, oversight.

Anyway, the legal field knew that this was wrong, and most people understood that it was wrong from 1st and 4th amendment perspectives. But, it's only until recently that the FBI has started admitting "yeah, what we did was inappropriate." While I'm glad they're coming clean, it's sort of like saying "sorry" to the guy who just caught you in bed with his wife. The damage is done, and it can't be undone. Though it will be quietly pushed aside, not unlike this story which was only on the headline page at Yahoo for an hour or so.

Perhaps this release was given to help garner support for retroactive immunity to the telecoms who turned over the information under threat from the government. But, if that's the case, then doesn't this open the door for litigation against the government by those whose files were inappropriately received? Shouldn't it?

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