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
The US Government has abandoned its pursuit of an appeal to a struck-down gag order against the Connecticut librarian who had received a demand for library records by the FBI. In short, the gag order is lifted and this is good news.
The case, Doe vs Gonzales, concerned a librarian who was served with a National Security Letter (NSL). The librarian [identified as George Christian in other newspapers], who appears to already have been an outspoken advocate of intellectual freedom, objected to the gag order [biggish pdf, a few screenshots here] disallowing him from speaking to his own library, the CT Library Assocation or the American Library Association about this issue. He argues that the gag order prevented him from creating effective policies should such a thing happen again, and prevented him from educating other libraries about the existence and specifics of NSLs.
A few things have happened with the USA PATRIOT Act in the last week or so. The act was reauthorized, most of it indefinitely. Notably, Section 215 was changed somewhat and authorized for another four years. Library Journal has a blurb on how this affects libraries which is worth reading. I noticed that ALA President Michael Gorman had issued a statement about the reauthorization which had cycled off the main page of ALA by the following morning. I posted a note about this to the Council list (excellent archiving software that breaks all hyperlinks, huh?) and his response is back on the main page. Nothing on the main page of the Washington Office. Nothing on the main page of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, though both have fought against the USA PATRIOT Act since the beginning and do have a lot of information buried in their sites.
I was asked for a statement about the renewal and had been spending so much time with a close eyeball on my local Senators (who both voted against it) that I wasn’t entirely on top of it. You can hear a quickie interview with me on Moby Lives Radio (MP3 file). Suffice to say that I’m not mollified by the changes to Section 215 and I’m still concerned about this Act’s implications for the privacy of all library users.