The FBI is using more aggressive means to get personal emails and information about internet usage. In the past, the FBI was permitted to use administrative subpoenas that were not initially presented to a judge for review. These administrative subpoenas, or national security letters, were sent to internet service providers at the discretion of the FBI asking internet service providers to disclose information about personal emails and what websites the targets of the subpoenas had visited. Upon receiving the national security letters, the internet providers were obligated to refrain from alerting its customers that the FBI was requesting the information and the internet service provider was providing the information.
More recently, perhaps due to backlash from the secret disclosure of this private information, the internet service providers were limiting the information they would provide to the FBI in response to these national security letters. As a result, the FBI has shifted its strategy and asked the courts for orders, called business records requests, that require the internet service providers to release the extensive private information previously obtained by the national security letters. According to a recent article, in the first few months of this year, more than 80% of the business record requests made by the FBI were for internet records, and the FBI made more than four times as many business record requests in 2010 compared to the prior year.