NSA data collection has been getting a lot of attention ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the massive spying and internet wire-tapping programs started during the George W. Bush administration and greatly expanded under President Obama. The NSA is not the only governmental agency to have drawn public ire when it overstepped its bounds.
During J. Edgar Hoover’s administration, the FBI sent a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demanding that he kill himself. This discovery was made by a Yale history professor. This letter has come to be known as the “suicide letter”, and is full of foul language directed at the good doctor, calling him “sexually psychotic,” “a dissolute abnormal imbecile” and a “fraud.” If that wasn’t enough, the letter ends with warning, saying “You have just 34 days… There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” This letter along with a audio recording of an alleged extramarital affair was sent to MLK’s home and discovered by his wife. Dr. King believed this was from the FBI and after his death, a Senate committee confirmed his suspicions.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a statement on the letter: “The implications of these types of strategies in the digital age are chilling. Imagine Facebook chats, porn viewing history, emails, and more made public to discredit a leader who threatens the status quo, or used to blackmail. … These are not far-fetched ideas.” And Vox calls the letter “a terrifying reminder of what government surveillance agencies can be capable of.” FBI Director James Comey acknowledged this blemish in the FBI’s past when he was first introduced as director, telling the crowd: “I’m going to direct that all new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial here in Washington. I think it will serve as a different kind of lesson, one more personal to the bureau, of the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability.”