One of the things that’s so harmful about the USA PATRIOT Act’s gag order, in my opinion, is that the people who have the best firsthand information about it are the ones that are least free to talk about it.
I was one of four library colleagues who challenged an NSL [National Security Letter] in the courts around the time of its reauthorization. We were under a gag order because of the nondisclosure provision of the NSL section of the Patriot Act. This happened even though a judge with high-level security clearance had declared that there was no risk in identifying us as recipients of an NSL. We were therefore not allowed to testify to Congress about our experience with the letters – which seek information, without court review, on people like library users. It is more than irksome to now discover that the attorney general was giving Congress false information – at the same time that we recipients of NSLs were not allowed to express our concerns
The judge in the USA PATRIOT Act case in Connecticut [John Doe, et al v Alberto Gonzales, 3:05CV1256] has granted the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary relief [pdf]. Very interesting language in the opinion regarding the USAPA gag order provisions
Considering the current national interest in and the important issues surrounding the debate on renewal of the PATRIOT Act provisions, it is apparent to this court that the loss of Doeâ€™s ability to speak out now on the subject as a NSL recipient is a real and present loss of its First Amendment right to free speech that cannot be remedied.
The potential for abuse is written into the statute: the very people who might have information regarding investigative abuses and overreaching are preemptively prevented from sharing that information with the public…
The defendants have failed to show a compelling state interest that is served by gagging the plaintiffs with regard to Doeâ€™s identity. If the governmentâ€™s interest is more broadly defined as preventing an unknown subject of the governmentâ€™s investigation from learning of the governmentâ€™s investigation, which would support a finding of a compelling interest, the gag provision as to Doeâ€™s identity is not narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
Ashcroft’s “hysteria” remark winds up in the decision as well. The injunction is stayed until the 20th of September to give the government some time to appeal. [alacoun]
The USA PATRIOT Act is never far from my mind. An ALA Councilor has urged the ALA to sign on with a bipartisan group called Patriots to Resore Checks and Balances. Congressman Bernie Sanders is still working on his bill to repeal Section 215, and someone sent me this Newsweek article which, contrary to conventional wisdom and current “on the record” statements, has Ashcroft’s aids claiming that Section 215 was responsible for a terrorism-related arrest. Meanwhile, many provisions sunset in just eight months.