The ACLU has made a useful post talking about the Department of Justice’s released statistics about their surveillance activities. Surveillance is up. Section 215 is sunsetting. Osama is dead. What now?
The government more than quadrupled its use of secret court subpoenas, known as 215 orders, which give the government access to “any tangible thing,” including a wide range of sensitive information such as financial records, medical records, and even library records. In 2010, the FBI made 96 applications, up from just 21 in 2009.
Mother Jones had a good article (print version) about the Connecticut librarians [“radical bookworms” in MJ’s terms, oy!] who fought the USA PATRIOT Act. It’s a little overblown, in my opinion, but has a good sequence of events. Worth understanding that though the National Security Letter of USAPA was deemed unconstitutional, many other parts of the USA PATRIOT Act are still with us and will be into this next administration. More Daily Kos discussion on this topic yesterday.
National security letters are a little-known fbi tool originally used in foreign intelligence surveillance to obtain phone, financial, and electronic records without court approval. Rarely employed until 2001, they exploded in number after the Patriot Act drastically eased restrictions on their use, allowing nsls to be served by fbi agents on anyoneâ€”whether or not they were the subject of a criminal investigation. In 2000, 8,500 nsls were issued; by contrast, between 2003 and 2005 the fbi issued more than 143,000 nsls, only one of which led to a conviction in a terrorism case.
The EFF has just reported that the gag order provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act concerning National Security Letters are unconstitutional. This is NOT the Connecticut case, but a related one concerning the records of an internet service provider. Here is more explanation from the ACLU and a link to the decision (pdf). The decision claims this gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act is unconstituional because “it does not afford adequate procedural safeguardd, and because it is not a sufficiently narrowly tailored restriction on protected speech.”
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