National Security Letters (“NSLs”) refer to a collection of statutes that authorize certain government agencies to obtain information and simultaneously impose a secrecy obligation upon the recipient of the letter.
Four statutes permit government agencies to issue NSLs: (1) the Electronic Communication Privacy Act,1 (2) the Right to Financial Privacy Act,2 (3) the National Security Act,3and the (4) Fair Credit Reporting Act.4 Although differences exist between the letters issued under each statute, in general, all of the NSLs permit a requesting agency to prevent an organization that receives the NSL from disclosing the fact that it received the request, or the type of information that was requested, if disclosure may result in a danger to national security, interfere with a criminal, counterterrorism, or counterintelligence investigation, interfere with diplomatic relations, or endanger the life or physical safety of a person. If the recipient of a NSL wishes to challenge a non-disclosure request accompanying a NSL, the recipient may file a petition with a U.S. district court in the district where the person does business,5 or, the recipient may request that the requesting agency obtain judicial review of the nondisclosure request.6 In both instances, the requesting agency must file an application with the court setting forth the reasons for the nondisclosure request.
Notwithstanding any nondisclosure requests, NSL recipients may publicly report on a semiannual or annual basis certain information regarding aggregate NSL requests the entity receives.7 The information that may be reported is limited to identifying in aggregate the rough quantity of NSL requests received (e.g., 0-99 or 0-249) depending on the reporting format chosen.8
Number of NSLs issued in 20139
Number of NSLs issued in 201410
Number of NSLs issued in 201511
Number of NSLs issued in 2016.12
If you receive a NSL, consider the following steps and questions:
1. 18 U.S. C. § 2709.
2. 12 U.S.C. § 3414.
3. 50 U.S.C. § 3162.
4. 15 U.S.C. § 1681v; 15 U.S.C. § 1681u.
5. 18 U.S.C. § 3511(b).
7. 50 U.S.C. § 1874.
9. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Statistical Transparency Report: Regarding the Use of National Security Authorities for Calendar Year 2016, April 2017, available at: https://icontherecord.tumblr.com/transparency/odni_transparencyreport_cy2016.