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We're Still Gagged, But the Presses Are Moving

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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August 26, 2005

As Congress gets closer and closer to sending a final Patriot Act renewal bill to the president, the ACLU’s new lawsuit revealing an FBI request for records from an unnamed member of the American Library Association makes it even more clear that reform is needed. (The government will not allow the ACLU to confirm the identity or nature of its client.)

As mentioned by many a commentator, this is another argument in favor of protecting the modest improvements to current law in the Senate version of the reauthorization bill.

The press is all over this one.

“The document strongly suggests the client is a library or library system and its manager,” says the AP, “But because of provisions of the law used by the FBI and the fact that some businesses that supply libraries are members of the library association, it was at least possible the client is a business that provides Internet access to a library system. Beeson said the government would not allow her to clarify that.”

Ann Beeson, our Associate Legal Director, also makes the point about relevance and timeliness in her quote: “Our client wants to tell the American public about the dangers of allowing the FBI to demand library records without court approval,” she says in the AP story. “If our client could speak, he could explain why Congress should adopt additional safeguards that would limit Patriot Act powers.”

Dan Eggen at the Washington Post handily synopsizes the documentary evidence: “the edited lawsuit reveals that the plaintiff is a member of the libraries association, that it provides circulation and cataloging of library materials, ‘and that it allows library patrons . . . to search library collections and check the status of their accounts.’ The complaint also says the institution provides Internet access for use by staff and patrons and that the FBI was seeking subscriber information, billing information and access logs related to an unidentified target.”

Anthony’s quoted in the NY Times, citing the FBI demand as “a prime example of the government using its Patriot Act powers without any judicial oversight to get sensitive information on law-abiding Americans.”

Even the Washington Times gets in the game with a decent story, and a great lead: “The Justice Department is using a provision of the Patriot Act to scour library records just weeks after assuring Congress it had not used that portion of the law, according to a lawsuit unsealed yesterday.” It also concludes with chairman of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, Bob Barr: “I think this creates further a credibility gap for the government, and it is certainly fortuitous this came out before final action is taken by Congress.”

That said, the Wash. Times also boasts an awesomely wrong headline (“ACLU suit seeks to bar FBI access to library data”). To be very clear, the primary objection to NSL power, especially given the expansion of the relevant statute in this case by the Patriot Act, is the lack of prior judicial review, not the fact that these are library records (though that is creepy).

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