In Legal Papers Unsealed Today, Librarian Speaks of Fear of Imprisonment Over Government Gag in Patriot Act Challenge

September 1, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – In previously sealed legal papers made public today by the American Civil Liberties Union, an unnamed librarian expressed fears of imprisonment if he were to violate a gag order in a challenge to a controversial Patriot Act power used by the FBI to demand library records.

Learn more about the National Security Letters >>

The papers, which were ordered unsealed by the judge in the case, include three affidavits and a legal brief. One of the affidavits was filed by a librarian charged with educating the library community and general public about intellectual freedom. The unnamed librarian is a representative of the ACLU’s “John Doe” client in the case.

“One of the ultimate ironies of this case is that the Patriot Act has effectively gagged free speech about the Patriot Act,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, the lead lawyer in the case.

In a hearing yesterday before Judge Janet Hall of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the ACLU argued that its client has a First Amendment right to participate in the current debate in Congress over reauthorizing or expanding the Patriot Act. The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that the client may speak to Congress, the press and the public about his firsthand experiences with the Patriot Act. A transcript of yesterday’s argument was also made public today.

The lawsuit specifically challenges the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, including library records and the identify of people who have used library computers. The Patriot Act dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

“I believe that members of the public have a right to know that their library records are subject to what I believe are unconstitutional government searches,” said an unnamed representative of the ACLU’s “John Doe” client. “But for the gag, I would inform members of the public about the NSL power and its application in the library context. Because of the gag, I am afraid that if I publicly discuss the NSL power I will subject both [name redacted] and myself to serious sanctions, including possible imprisonment.”

Papers reveal that the client, whose identity must remain a secret under the permanent gag, “strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records.” The client is a member of the American Library Association and the Connecticut 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.”

In an affidavit supporting the release of the gag order, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero noted that the gag “has straitjacketed our ability to inform the press, the public and Congress about the government’s use of a dangerous new power. More importantly,” he added, “the public and Congress are being denied information essential to the public and legislative debate that is at the heart of democratic self-governance.”

The lawsuit, ACLU v. Gonzales, was filed on August 9. It names as defendants Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and an FBI official whose identity remains under seal. Both the national ACLU and its Connecticut branch said they were forced to file the lawsuit initially under seal to avoid penalties for violating the gag provision. A ruling on the emergency court order to lift the gag is expected next week.

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

The ACLU has created a special Web page on its National Security Letter litigation, which includes links to legal papers, online at

The affidavit of the Doe Client Representative #1 is available online at /node/35518.

The affidavit of Doe Client Representative #2 is available online at: /node/35490.

The affidavit of ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero is available online at: /node/35487.

The redacted version of the ACLU’s request for a Preliminary Injunction is available online at: /node/35512.

The transcript of the hearing is available online at: /node/23220.

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