- “Assassinations, Spying and The Constitution: ACLU President Susan Herman Talks Big Government Taking Liberties,” Reason.tv (see video below) (“All of our elected representatives have to hear from a broad cross section of liberals, libertarians, conservatives–people who just say, ‘This is too much big government. We want our government back,” says American Civil Liberties Union President Susan Herman, author of the new book Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy. … How much has the police state expanded since 9/11, and is there any way to stop it? Herman sat down with Reason.tv Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie to discuss the this and other questions surrounding the state of liberty in America. Herman notes that while there have been a few minor changes in policy, for the most part there’s been a remarkable continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations in terms of their disregard for civil liberties. She also discusses the recent assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki and the ACLU’s role in representing Al-Awlaki’s father in court.Interview by Nick Gillespie”).
In their discussion, Herman mentions the expanded use of National Security Letters (NSLs) since the war on terror began. A NSL may be used to seek customer and consumer transaction information in national security investigations from communications providers, “financial institutions” and credit agencies. Previously NSLs could be used only against people who were reasonably suspected of espionage, but the Patriot Act now allows the Attorney General to issue NSLs even against people who are not suspected of criminal activity or of acting on behalf of a foreign power. And the letter can require the recipient to keep it secret. So we don’t even know how many of these are out there are when they are issued. Thus NSLs have become a far more invasive procedure the police state can use against citizens.
And in 2004, Congress expanded the definition of “financial institution” eligible to receive NSLs to include not only banks and credit unions, but also car dealers, jewelers, travel agencies, and real estate agents, among others.1 This is a good illustration of the state’s practice of “classificationism.”
For background, see Charles Doyle, National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: Legal Background (Congressional Research Service, 2009); also here. ↩