The documents consist of reports the FBI filed with the White House's Intelligence Oversight Board, which oversees the intelligence community’s compliance with laws, executive orders, and presidential directives.
The report details “serious misconduct by FBI agents including lying in declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain grand jury subpoenas, and accessing password-protected files without a warrant”, the EFF said.
The 40,000 violations figure is an estimate of the EFF based on the proportion of violations reported to the oversight board and the FBI’s own statements regarding the number of violations that occurred.
According to the documents, the FBI reported 800 violations of laws, executive orders, and regulations and at least 7,000 potential violations to the board from 2001 to 2008.
Perhaps most disturbing, third parties, including phone companies, ISPs, financial institutions, and credit agencies, contributed to these violations by providing customer information in response to National Security Letters (NSLs), according to the report. NSLs are administrative subpoenas used by the FBI to obtain records from third parties without judicial review, the EFF explained.
The report estimates that the FBI likely issued approximately 25,000 NSL requests for telephone and electronic communications records, 12,500 requests for financial records, and 12,500 requests for credit information annually from 2003 to 2006.
In over half of the violations reviewed by EFF, the third parties receiving the NSL either provided more information than requested or turned over information “without receiving a valid legal justification from the FBI.”
In a Los Angeles Times report on the documents, FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni said that most of the agency’s reports to the board were about technical errors that did not add up to misconduct. "The number of substantive violations of someone's rights is very small and we take them very seriously," she said.
Mark Rumold, the EFF attorney who obtained the documents, told the newspaper that “when the FBI is glibly treating violations as technical mistakes, it’s indicative of a broader problem – the FBI’s attitude toward dedicated, effective oversight.”