FBI Continues To Use Gag Order To Suppress Key Information About National Security Letters

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

FBI Continues To Use Gag Order To Suppress Key Information About National Security Letters

Newly Public Documents Underline Need For NSL Reform As Congress Prepares For Patriot Act Markup On Thursday

NEW YORK - The
FBI continues to use the gag order provision of the Patriot Act's
national security letter (NSL) statute to suppress key information
about the agency's misuse of NSLs, according to legal documents
recently made public in an American Civil Liberties Union case
challenging the constitutionality of an NSL gag order.

Under the statute, the FBI can use
NSLs to compel recipients, such as Internet service providers (ISPs),
financial institutions and libraries to turn over sensitive information
about innocent clients and subscribers, and then bar them from
disclosing that they even received a record demand. According to the
ACLU, by continuing to unconstitutionally enforce its five-year-old gag
order on a John Doe NSL recipient and his ACLU attorneys, the FBI is
suppressing key information that could help inform the ongoing
congressional debate about the need to reform the NSL statute.

"The FBI's misuse of its gag power
continues to prevent NSL recipients like Doe – who have the best
first-hand knowledge of the FBI's use and abuse of NSL power – from
participating in the Patriot Act debate in Congress," said Melissa
Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The
gag power has allowed the FBI to manipulate the debate, to suppress
evidence of its misuse of the NSL power, and to deprive Congress and
the public of important information it needs to inform whether these
intrusive surveillance and gag powers should be reformed."

The ACLU and New York Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit, now called Doe v. Holder,
in April 2004 on behalf of an ISP that the FBI served with an NSL. A
lower court ruled in 2007 that the gag order provisions were
unconstitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
upheld that ruling in 2008. However, the FBI continues to enforce the
gag order on the ISP even though the underlying investigation is more
than five years old and even though the FBI abandoned its demand for
records from the ISP more than three years ago.

One of the legal documents recently
made public reveals that the FBI continues to use the gag order to
prohibit the disclosure of an "attachment" to the NSL Doe received
that, if disclosed, would show that the FBI tried to obtain records
that it was not entitled to obtain under the NSL statute.
 
"These documents aren't just
troubling, they're timely," said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director
of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The FBI's abuse of the NSL
gag order for its own protection further underlines the need for
Patriot Act reform. With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to mark up
a bill to amend the Patriot Act bill on Thursday, we can only hope this
additional evidence of NSL misuse will convince committee members to
narrow this overly broad FBI power."

The NSL statute was greatly expanded
in the Patriot Act, passed hastily by Congress in the days following
9/11. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up a bill
that would amend the Patriot Act and the NSL statute on Thursday. The
bill, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, would limit the narrow
controversial statute and address other problematic provisions of the
Patriot Act.

Attorneys in Doe v. Holder are Goodman, Jameel Jaffer and Larry Schwartztol of the ACLU and Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU.

More information about the case, including the newly public legal documents, is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/nationalsecurityletters/22023res20051130.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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