National Security Letter Recipient Speaks Out at News of Gonzales' False Patriot Act Testimony

July 10, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU Client Disheartened by Government Deceit


NEW YORK – American Civil Liberties Union client George Christian expressed dismay today in response to reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress about his knowledge of national security letter surveillance abuses in order to make a case for reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005. Gonzales testified that he was unaware of civil liberties abuses having occurred with regard to the use of NSLs, but reports today indicate that internal FBI documents show that he was, in fact, notified of NSL abuses.

The ACLU has challenged NSLs on behalf of NSL recipients in two separate cases. In cases in Connecticut and New York, lower courts ruled that the NSL provision of the Patriot Act violates Americans’ constitutional rights. This provision permits the FBI to demand, without court approval, records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The law gives the FBI the authority to prohibit people who receive NSLs from disclosing even the mere fact that the FBI demanded information from them.

George Christian is a Connecticut librarian who received an NSL demanding patrons’ records. The NSL prohibited Christian and his colleagues from talking about the NSL. With the ACLU’s help, Christian and his colleagues successfully challenged the gag order.

The following may be attributed to Christian:

“Having experienced first-hand the impact of the government’s abuse of surveillance powers, it is particularly disheartening to learn more and more about the deceit surrounding that abuse. I and my colleagues were fortunate enough to have the gag order against us lifted, but thousands more believed to have received national security letters are not so lucky, and must suffer the injustice in silence. It’s bad enough that these abuses occur, but salt is added to the wound when the top law enforcement agent in the country knows about the abuses, does nothing to correct them, and then plays ignorant when confronted with them.”

The ACLU currently represents another NSL recipient — an Internet service provider — in a challenge pending before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In this case, the ACLU’s client has been under a gag order for more than three years. A hearing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero on August 15 in Doe v. Gonzales. At the hearing, the ACLU will argue that the NSL statute’s gag provisions violate the First Amendment.

In related litigation, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in June to force the Department of Defense and the CIA to turn over documents concerning their use of NSLs in the face of evidence that those agencies are possibly playing an expanded and perhaps unauthorized role in domestic intelligence gathering.

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