Monday, September 12, 2005

A ding in the Patriot Act's armor

One of the lesser known provisions of the USA Patriot Act states that not only are records of libraries, bookstores, and the like subject to search by the FBI without a warrant by using a National Security Letter; but also that the librarians, booksellers, et al. are not allowed to say that they've recieved such a letter.

That provision was overturned last Friday by a US District Judge:

Prosecutors argued that the gag order blocked the release of the client’s identity, not the client’s ability to speak about the Patriot Act. They said revealing the client’s identity could tip off suspects and jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism or spying.

Hall rejected the argument that the gag order didn’t silence the client.

“The government may intend the non-disclosure provision to serve some purpose other than the suppression of speech,” Hall wrote. “Nevertheless, it has the practical effect of silencing individuals with a constitutionally protected interest in speech and whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives.”

The ruling rejected the gag order in this case, but it did not strike down the provision of the law used by the FBI to demand the library records. A broader challenge to that provision is still pending before Hall.


Hall also expressed concerns about the act, writing: “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 and with the legislators who empower the executive branch with the tools used to investigate matters of national security.”

Judge Hall stayed her ruling until Sept. 20, and while this ruling doesn't affect the larger issue of the validity of warrentless searches of library records, she will be ruling on those later.


Blogger Nunja said...

Thanks for the comment, and the info on the spam. And yes, I will be turning it on. It seems to be getting worse every day!

I see that you and I both have Postsecrets linked. Gotta love it!

11:18 AM  

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