11/11/2005 12:00AM

FBI's files on Vegas are too invasive

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If you were a visitor to Las Vegas before January 2004, there's a chance the FBI has a file on you, including everything you've done on your visits here. That chilling disclosure was reported by Rod Smith for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and also in a Washington Post article.

The FBI, using powers available to it under the Patriot Act, came to Las Vegas in late December 2003 with "national security letters." The NSL's legally forced casinos and scores of local businesses to provide financial and historical documentation to the bureau.

Using these documents, the FBI could piece together every aspect of your visit: How much and where you gambled, when and where you ate, what you bought, all your cell phone and call records, travel itinerary, use of rental cars and storage facilities, etc.

All this was done with the fear that possible terrorist plots were being hatched in Las Vegas and that the city was a possible terrorist target. What bothers civil libertarians and the gaming industry is the lack of probable cause or even due process involved.

If a person turns out to be completely innocent, as was the case with 100 percent of those investigated in the Las Vegas operation, the FBI has the power to maintain the files on you in perpetuity. Many consider this an unnecessary invasion of privacy, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Regardless, the popular slogan "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" has gone up in smoke. In fact, it is believed the pipeline of information to the FBI continues to this day.

American Gaming Association chairman Frank Fahrenkopf will address the issue with gaming industry leaders in an annual board meeting to be held on Dec. 7 at Mandalay Bay.

Las Vegas is not alone in being served with NSL's. Since the inception of the Patriot Act, on average more than 30,000 NSL's are being served nationwide each year.

Why this is news now in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and in the Washington Post has little to do with the growing indignation of civilians and companies, but a lot to do with the sinking approval rating of President Bush.

If protests were expressed in 2003 or 2004 during the peak of the president's popularity, the complaints may have been portrayed as being unpatriotic and soft on terrorism. Why would you protest unless you had something to hide?

Still, it's astonishing to see how our government is operating in the post-9/11 era. Terrorism is creating high anxiety and is such an insidious enemy that the U.S. government is reaching deep inside our lifestyle in ways never before imaginable.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.