The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI’s authority to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval. Through NSLs the FBI can compile vast dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the web sites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or “gag” anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand.
In August 2005, the ACLU disclosed that the FBI used an NSL to demand patron records from the Library Connection, a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries. At the time, Congress was in the midst of a critical debate over reauthorization of the Patriot Act. One of the key issues was whether the government had used the Patriot Act to demand information from libraries.
That same month, the ACLU sought an emergency court order to lift the gag so that representatives of Library Connection in the Congressional Patriot Act reauthorization debate and disclose the fact that the FBI had used an NSL to demand library records. In September 2005, a district court judge in Connecticut ruled that the NSL gag order imposed on Library Connection was unconstitutional. In September 2005, the New York Times revealed that Library Connection was the NSL recipient in the case, but the government continued to enforce the gag on the librarians, Ultimately, in April 2006, six weeks after the Patriot Act had been reauthorized by Congress, the government dropped its legal battle to keep the gag intact, and then withdrew its demand for records altogether.
> Supreme Court Unseals Documents in Patriot Act Case (8/3/2006)
> Government DropsLibrary Records Demand(6/26/2006)
> Librarians Speak Out AfterPatriot ActGag (5/30/2006)
> Government Drops Fight to Gag Librarians (4/12/2006)
> Justice Department Continues Offensive on NSL (12/2/2005)
> Reports Show 30,000 Records Demands (11/7/2005)
> Court Urged to Uphold Patriot Block (11/2/2005)
> Supreme Court Keeps Gag Intact (10/7/2005)
> Groups Call to Lift Gag Order (9/28/2005)
> Client Remains Gagged (9/20/2005)
> Judge Orders FBI to Lift Gag (9/9/2005)
> Librarian Fears Imprisonment (9/1/2005)
> FBI Demands Library Information (8/25/2005)
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