Post Constitutional America: ACLU Clams FBI is Spying Through Libraries
The American Civil Liberties Union says that the FBI has used a
controversial Patriot Act power to demand records from an organization
that possesses "a wide array of sensitive information about library
patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by
library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons." The FBI
demand was disclosed in a new lawsuit filed in Connecticut, which
remains under a heavy FBI gag order.
The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that
its client can participate in the public debate about the Patriot Act
as Congress prepares to reauthorize or amend it in September.
"Our client wants to tell the American public about the dangers of
allowing the FBI to demand library records without court approval,"
said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, the lead lawyer in the
case. "If our client could speak, he could explain why Congress should
adopt additional safeguards that would limit Patriot Act powers."
Papers reveal that the client, whose identity must remain a secret
under the gag, "strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its
library and Internet records." The client is a member of the American
The lawsuit challenges the National Security Letter provision of the
Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal
records without court approval, such as the identity of a person who
has visited a particular Web site on a library computer, or who has
engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. The Patriot Act
dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand
records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
The government has repeatedly dismissed the concerns of librarians
that the act could force them to violate their ethical responsibility
to protect the privacy of library users. Former Attorney General John
Ashcroft even called these concerns about the Patriot Act "baseless hysteria."
REDACTED VERSION OF THE ACLU'S COMPLAINT
ACLU v. Gonzales