Librarian Who Challenged NSLs Urges Congress to Fix Patriot Act

April 11, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – George Christian, Executive Director of Library Connection and a client in the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Letter challenge case, today urged the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution to fix the Patriot Act provision.

Anyone who receives an NSL is forbidden, or “gagged,” from telling anyone anything about the demand.

“Secrecy is a threat to open government and a free society,” Christian said. “It was the secrecy surrounding NSLs that permitted their misuse and prevented oversight and public debate. Congress must require judicial review of NSL requests.”

In August 2005 the ACLU revealed that the FBI used an NSL to demand reading material and Internet use records from the Library Connection, a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries. However, the librarians were not forced to comply with the demand and the records were never turned over to the authorities.

The ACLU challenged this Patriot Act statute in two cases. One involves the group of librarians, including Library Connection, and the second, an Internet service provider. In both cases, the judges ruled that the gags were unconstitutional. Subsequently, Congress amended the NSL provision in March 2006. The amendment fixed some problems but makes the “gag” provision even more oppressive. The ACLU has gone back to court to challenge the constitutionality of the amended law.

Since the Patriot Act was enacted in 2001, the NSLs issued by the FBI dramatically increased. Previous reports indicated an increase of 30,000 NSLs annually. The Justice Department Inspector General’s report puts the number of NSL requests made between 2003 and 2005 at more than 143,000. The same investigation also found serious FBI abuses and numerous potential violations of the law.

“This is an extraordinary abuse of power by the FBI,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Patriot Act’s expansion of the NSL power was fatally flawed from the beginning because there is no judicial review. Although the NSL process is inadequate, the FBI flouted even those weak rules, because there is no scrutiny and no accountability. No one is above the law, neither the FBI nor the attorney general and Congress needs to hold them accountable and prevent future violations by fixing the Patriot Act.”

Christian’s testimony is available at:

More about the ACLU’s work on NSLs, the IG report and our legal challenges is available at:

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