Get paranoid: The Feds are on your tail

Reason No. 3: That letter in your doctor's hand may be hazardous to your health

If the National Security Agency is spying on you, you're probably connected in some way to a terrorist investigation -- even if it's just because you invited your neighbor Ahmed over for a barbecue.

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But the FBI can investigate you for all kinds of reasons, and you may never know it until they slap on the cuffs. Are you a vegan, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or part of an antiwar organization? All of these groups have been investigated for “domestic terrorism” since September 11, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the Patriot Act, FBI agents can issue NSLs (national security letters) to your employer, bank, ISP, doctor, library, or any other entity demanding your records without a warrant. Recipients of NSLs must comply with the FBI's demands and cannot notify the person under investigation. Between 2003 and 2005, the Feds issued more than 140,000 such letters, according to a March 2007 report by the inspector general for the Department of Justice.

In a random sample of nearly 300 NSLs, the inspector general found possible violations of FBI procedures or the law in 48 of them, or about one out of every six.

Worse, you can be an absolute saint and still be the target of an NSL. According to a November 2005 report in The Washington Post, “Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.”

Feeling paranoid yet?

[ Paranoia index | Reason No. 2: Google knows what you searched last summer ]

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