Federal Judge Orders FBI to Lift Patriot Act Gag on Librarian

September 9, 2005 12:00 am

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Ruling in ACLU Lawsuit Deals Second Blow to National Security Letter Provision

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NEW YORK — A federal judge today ruled that the FBI must lift a gag that is preventing an organization with library records from participating in the Patriot Act debate. The opinion comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging a provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes the FBI to demand records without judicial review.

Learn more about the National Security Letters >>

“”Today, the judiciary’s role was reaffirmed in the government’s war on terror ,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “” Seizing library and Internet records without judicial authorization offends most Americans, regardless of political ideology . We can be safe without sacrificing our most basic civil liberties.””

“”We are extremely pleased that the court has recognized that gagging our client from participating in the Patriot Act debate violates the First Amendment and is profoundly undemocratic,”” added Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director and the lead attorney in the case. “”Today’s ruling makes clear that the government cannot silence innocent Americans simply by invoking national security.””

The decision marks the second time a federal court has dealt a blow to the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records such as the identity of a person who has checked out books from a library or engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. The first ruling, which also came in a case brought by the ACLU, found that the entire NSL provision was unconstitutional.

In today’s decision, which has been stayed until September 20 to allow the government to appeal, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall held that the “”John Doe”” organization has a First Amendment right to engage in the “”current and lively debate in this country over the renewal of the PATRIOT Act.””

“”The [National Security Letter] statute has the practical effect of silencing those who have the most intimate knowledge of the statute’s effect and a strong interest in advocating against the federal government’s broad investigative powers,”” wrote Judge Hall.

Legal papers in the case, Doe v. Gonzales , reveal that the unnamed organization represented by the ACLU is a member of the American Library Association and possesses “”a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons.””

Attorneys in the case are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU and Annette M. Lamoreaux of the ACLU of Connecticut.

Read a copy of the public version of today’s ruling.

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