updated 4/28/2006 6:40:10 PM ET 2006-04-28T22:40:10

The FBI secretly sought information last year on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks and credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval, the Justice Department said Friday.

It was the first time the Bush administration has publicly disclosed how often it uses the administrative subpoena known as a national security letter, which allows the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without court approval.

Friday's disclosure was mandated as part of the renewal of the Patriot Act, the administration's sweeping anti-terror law.

The FBI delivered a total of 9,254 NSLs relating to 3,501 people in 2005, according to a report submitted late Friday to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. In some cases, the bureau demanded information about one person from several companies.

The department also reported it received a secret court's approval for 155 warrants to examine business records last year, under a Patriot Act provision that includes library records. However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said the department has never used the provision to ask for library records.

The number was a significant jump over past use of the warrant for business records. A year ago, Gonzales told Congress there had been 35 warrants approved between November 2003 and April 2005.

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