Prison Reform, Civil Liberties on List of Top DOJ Challenges

Inspector general says inmate overcrowding poses 'increasingly critical threat.'

, The National Law Journal

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Inspector General Michael Horowitz
Inspector General Michael Horowitz

National security has been a Justice Department challenge for years, Horowitz's report notes, but the clash between civil liberties and government surveillance intensified during 2013."The Department's challenge is not limited to ensuring that its efforts to safeguard American interests are effective: it must also protect civil rights and liberties," Horowitz wrote. "Recent disclosures concerning the government's data collection and surveillance processes have sparked public debate over mass surveillance and government secrecy, and in so doing have underscored the difficulty of operating national security programs while also respecting the public's expectations of privacy, a key civil rights and liberties concern."

The inspector general's office is reviewing the department's requests for business records under Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as the department's use of pen register and trap-and-trace devices under that law.

Horowitz said his team will follow up on earlier reviews that concluded the FBI had used national security letters to obtain certain records without complying with legal requirements designed to protect civil liberties and privacy.

"Additional concerns about civil rights and liberties are likely to arise in the future," Horowitz wrote in his report. "For example, significant public attention has been paid to programs authorizing the acquisition of national security information, but relatively less has been paid to the storing, handling, and use of that information."

On the fraud enforcement front, Horowitz's report lauded the department's efforts to crack down on corporate malfeasance through tools such as the False Claims Act. His office is reviewing the push to collect criminal and civil debts.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, prosecutors collected $13.2 billion in criminal and civil actions. But an additional $23 billion was owed to the United States — including $18 billion in criminal fines and $5 billion in civil debts.

"But securing a financial judgment is not enough. The Department must also use all available tools to recover money owed to it, and it must ensure that the recovered money is wisely spent," Horowitz wrote.

Kathleen McDermott, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said those uncollected fines probably could not realistically be collected.

"I doubt very seriously they are not aggressive," said McDermott, who represents clients in False Claims Act matters. "It's more associated with ability to pay, and you're not going to see money from people you put in jail and aren't working."

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com.

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