Here’s an interesting glimpse into the attitudes of career law enforcement bureaucrats towards civil liberties:
Since the Patriot Act, the FBI has dispersed the authority to sign national security letters to more than five dozen supervisors — the special agents in charge of field offices, the deputies in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, and a few senior headquarters officials. FBI rules established after the Patriot Act allow the letters to be issued long before a case is judged substantial enough for a “full field investigation.” Agents commonly use the letters now in “preliminary investigations” and in the “threat assessments” that precede a decision whether to launch an investigation.
“Congress has given us this tool to obtain basic telephone data, basic banking data, basic credit reports,” said Caproni, who is among the officials with signature authority. “The fact that a national security letter is a routine tool used, that doesn’t bother me.”
If agents had to wait for grounds to suspect a person of ill intent, said Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, they would already know what they want to find out with a national security letter. “It’s all chicken and egg,” he said. “We’re trying to determine if someone warrants scrutiny or doesn’t.”
I have no doubt he’s right that being able to demand peoples’ personal information virtually on a whim makes investigations go a lot more easily. But as the saying goes, only in a police state is a policeman’s work easy.