The National Security Letter has always been a laughably frightening proposition, even for us post-privacy types. This is the one that FBI officials could issue legally requiring any organization to secretly hand over records on individuals. There may be an FBI file containing your work e-mails, bank records, and telephone contacts, and you will never know. Very Lives of Others.
Of course it would be revealed that the FBI’s insidious use of the NSL has gone far beyond the boundaries permitted even by the licentious Patriot Act. To hear it described in the news reports, FBI agents are using NSLs like we use Google. One imagines a New Yorker cartoon depicting two agents chatting over coffee: “This guy asked me out on Yahoo. I NSL-ed him, he seems clean.”
The WaPo‘s story has a chatty, charming tone to it: “The FBI collected intimate information about the lives of a population roughly the size of Bethesda’s.” “A report released yesterday by the department’s Office of the Inspector General offers the first official glimpse into the use of that impressive tool, and the results, according to the report, are not pretty.” It’s maybe a Reagan-era East Berlin cocktail party vibe. Check it out.