Former FBI Lawyer Who Oversaw Years Of Fourth Amendment Violations By The Agency Nominated For Federal Judge Seat

by Tim Cushing in TechDirt

from the ‘lifelong-position-of-power’-is-the-new-‘disciplinary-action’ dept

So, this is the way the system works, apparently. If you’re linked with nearly a decade’s worth of surveillance abuses, not only won’t you be punished for your malfeasance, but you’ll be promoted to a lifelong position of greater power.

Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian has compiled an in-depth look at Valerie Caproni, former top lawyer for the FBI and current nominee for a federal judge position in the Southern District of New York. Nothing Ackerman’s dug up looks promising for plaintiffs running privacy-related cases through this district court if she’s approved.

A 2010 report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog found that the FBI misused a type of non-judicial subpoena known as an “exigent letter” to improperly obtain more than 5,500 phone numbers of Americans.

“The FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the general counsel’s office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it and must face consequences,” said John Conyers, then the chairman of the House judiciary committee, in April 2010, who called for then-FBI director Robert Mueller to fire her.

Conyers said he was “outraged” that the FBI invented “exigent letters” to more easily obtain phone records, and intimated Caproni was responsible for it. “It’s not in the Patriot Act. It never has been. And its use, perhaps coincidentally, began in the same month that Ms Valerie Caproni began her work as general counsel,” Conyers said in a hearing that month. The FBI stopped using exigent letters in 2006.

“Exigent circumstance letters” (ECLs) were the end-around the FBI used when its National Security Letters failed to pry loose the phone data it was looking for, or more frequently, when it was deemed that following proper procedure would just take too long. Not that these NSLs were any less abusive — they were often used to access data in violation of the “limits” built into the PATRIOT Act. Apparently, the NSL loophole frequently wasn’t big enough or fast enough, at which point the FBI would craft “exigent letters.” These were supposed to be followed up by official NSLs, but the FBI often found it was easier to just not do that.

The nadir was reached when the FBI decided to replace the entire legal process for obtaining this data with Post-It notes and requests made over the phone. All of this occurred under Caproni’s watch.


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