Friday, September 09, 2005

LIBRARIANS STILL HAVE FREE SPEECH: A federal judge in Bridgeport, Conn., ruled in favor of the ACLU in a case where a librarian's right to be identified in a Patriot Act investigation was at issue. The ACLU filed the lawsuit after the FBI sent a so-called "National Security Letter" to the librarian demanding the surrender of all information related to Internet subscriptions, billing, and access logs for any person or entity related to the individual under investigation (emphasis mine). The gag order made it impossible for the librarian to argue against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act by Congress.

Prosecutors argue 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.

What is known about the FBI request is that on an undisclosed date, the FBI delivered what is known as a National Security Letter to the ACLU's client, which maintains traditional library book records as well as records on Internet use by its patrons.

The letter demanded "any and all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity related to" something or someone whose name is blacked out in the publicly released version of the letter. The letter said the information is relevant to an investigation of terrorism or spying.
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."

We've got to celebrate and draw hope from every event that shows the First Amendment is not yet dead, and this is one of them. So thank you, Judge Hall.

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