Issue 60, Fall 2005

A federal district court in Connecticut has issued a preliminary injunction against a “gag order,” part of a National Security Letter, issued by the FBI to obtain library records. Institutions receiving National Security Letters are forbidden to inform anyone about the search.

The ACLU, which brought the case, claims that the gag rule prevents its client from participating in the congressional debate over the Patriot Act. Judge Janet Hall agreed, writing that “the statute has the practical effect of silencing those who have the most intimate knowledge of [its] effect and a strong interest in advocating against the government’s broad investigative powers.” The order has been stayed pending appeal.

As of this writing, renewal of the Patriot Act is pending in Congress. The House and Senate passed different versions, which a conference committee plans to reconcile on October 17. Neither version restores the confidentiality of library and bookstore records that existed before its enactment, but the Senate version (S1389) comes close.