Bloggers on the FBI's abuse of power.

Bloggers on the FBI's abuse of power.

Bloggers on the FBI's abuse of power.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
March 9 2007 5:53 PM

G-Men Behaving Badly

Bloggers respond to a Justice Department report that says the FBI has overstepped its bounds in using Patriot Act methods to obtain information. Also, can the Internet destroy a woman's chances of getting hired at a law firm?

G-Men behaving badly: The Justice Department's inspector general has just released a report saying the FBI has played fast and loose with protocol for issuing national security letters, authorization slips for obtaining private information of American citizens sans judicial review. NSLs, as they're known, were given greater latitude with the passage of the Patriot Act, which raises the questions of how they're now being abused, or whether they deserve to exist in the first place.

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So, what's an NSL? George Washington University law prof Daniel Solove at Concurring Opinions explains: "A NSL is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various record and data pertaining to individuals. They do not require probable cause, a warrant, or even judicial oversight. They also come with a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. Compliance is mandatory."

At The Carpetbagger Report, lefty Steve Benan links to this November 2005 Washington Post article that explains how ominous this truly makes the FBI's transgressions: "Keep in mind, more than 20,000 NSLs are issued each year, and the inspector general's report was based on a small random sampling. …[S]ince 9/11 … the FBI needs only to certify that the records are 'sought for' or 'relevant to' an investigation 'to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.' "

However, at Joust the Facts, conservative Giacomo does the math on "22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations" out of an examined data sample of 293 NSLs: "Twenty two out of 293 reviewed is 7.5%, which is two high but also not high enough to indicate that such irregularities are top-down policy.  It appears that this is mostly an FBI internal problem, however. The Post reports that the Bush administration was as surprised and upset as anyone about this."

But Bush detractor John Amato at Crooks and Liars points out that "President Bush issued one of those infamous signing statements back in February 2006 when he signed the Patriot Act reauthorization, effectively nullifying the provisions Congress agreed upon so that these kinds of abuses wouldn't occur." Exactly, says constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald: "The story here is not merely that the FBI is breaking the law and abusing these powers. That has long been predicted and, to some degree, even documented. ….  It is yet another vivid example proving that the President's ideology of lawlessness exists not merely in theory, but as the governing doctrine under which the executive branch has acted, time and again and as deliberately as possible, in violation of whatever laws it deems inconvenient."

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And yet, Dennis Lormel at Counterterrorism Blog writes that "civil liberties are not at risk" because the infractions indicated in the Justice Department report were filing snafus, not constitutional violations: "The IG found no deliberate or intentional misuse of authority, meaning there were no infringements on privacy rights or civil liberties. Even though recordkeeping and reporting was inadequate, actual use of information was appropriate."

Read more about the Justice Department's report on the FBI.

AutoRejected: You know how it goes. You Google a potential associate's name and all of a sudden that Flickr-cataloged summer of fun in Ibiza has you second-guessing the elite standards of Stanford Law. A site called AutoAdmit is under fire because some female law students are being bad-mouthed there and claiming the extreme free-speech policy that governs the message board is harming their job prospects. To regulate or not is the question among the legal ladies in cyberspace.

Law professor Ann Althouse got, in her inimitable way, the lefty feminist blogosphere thundering about this response to the Google pariah story: "Too beautiful to appear in public? Too hot to be hired? Come on! What rational employer would deny you a job because idiots chatted about you on line in a way that made it obvious that the only thing you did was look good?"

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Jill at Feministe calls AutoAdmit "a law-school-oriented message board that is, essentially, a massive toilet of racism and sexism," which has formerly hosted "numerous pictures of me, making comments about raping and hate-fucking me, and debating whether or not I was fuckable or a stupid fat bitch. … While many of the threads on the message board are about law-school-related issues, they're mostly obnoxious in some way or another."

Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise adds: "It's one thing to be held responsible for your own statements, especially if you publish them under your own name on your personal blog. If this woman's career was damaged by what other people said about her in chat rooms, it's simply outrageous. ... What's even more outrageous is that the site requires its own posters to use pseuds, but allows these pseudonymous posters to refer to others by name."

Jill at Feministe *   tweaks Althouse and Beyerstein on what they do agree on—that no "rational" hiring partner at a law firm would use the Internet in lieu of, or to complement, a résumé: "[M]iddle-aged Big Law attorneys may not be the most savvy people in the world when it comes to internet communities. They see a thread talking about the promiscuity of a woman they're considering hiring, and that raises red flags. … While, from a feminist perspective, I think it's silly that participation in a beauty contest can make or break your job prospects, the reality is that it can. It looks unprofessional, narcissistic and childish, and definitely not what they want clients to see if they end up hiring you."

Read more about the AutoAdmit affair.

Correction, March 12: The article originally identified the post from Feministe as being written by Aero! at My Signature Weapon! (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.