The FBI sought personal information on thousands of Americans last year from banks, Internet service providers and other companies without having to seek approval from a court, according to new data released by the Justice Department. In a report to the top leaders of both parties in the House, the department disclosed that the FBI had issued more than 9,200 “national security letters,” or NSLs, seeking detailed information about more than 3,500 U.S. citizens or legal residents in 2005.
The report represents the first official count of NSL use, reports the Washington Post. It was required under legislation that extended the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law. The count does not include other such letters that are issued by the FBI to obtain more limited subscriber information from companies, such as a person’s name, address or other identifying data, according to the report. Sources have said that would include thousands of additional letters and may be the largest category of NSLs issued. The Washington Post reported in November that the FBI now issues more than 30,000 NSLs each year, including subscriber requests.