The AP reported today that the government secretly issued National Security Letters on 3,501 US citizens and legal residents to look at their bank, credit card, telephone and Internet companies in 2005.
Last year 9,254 NSLs were issued against 3,501 people but we don't know how many were issued in previous years. We only know this number because of reporting requirements in the Patriot Act, although there are possibly thousands of other letters unreported. I wrote about this last December, when the Washington Post revealed the fact that these letters are highly secret (no legal oversight) and if you get one you can't mention it to anyone else and of course seek legal advice:
The FBI security letters have been the subject of legal battles in two federal courts because, until the Patriot Act changes, recipients were barred from telling anyone about them.So far only two organizations have challenged NSLs, both represented by the ACLU. Basically these are secret subpoenas sent to organizations for information about their clients or customers.
Ann Beeson, the associate legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the report to Congress "confirms our fear all along that National Security Letters are being used to get the records of thousands of innocent Americans without court approval."