Gag orders extended; library consortium must remain silent Vol. 6, No. 20
GAG ORDERS EXTENDED; LIBRARY CONSORTIUM MUST REMAIN SILENT
The U.S. Court of Appeals extended a gag order on a library consortium that received a National Security Letter (NSL) while it considers a lower court ruling that the organization has a First Amendment right to fully participate in the discussion surrounding the USA PATRIOT Act. The gag order is preventing the NSL recipient, an unidentified member of the American Library Association, from discussing its experience openly and participating in the broader debate about the controversial legislation.
The lawsuit specifically challenges the NSL provision of the PATRIOT Act that allows the FBI to demand a range of records without any judicial oversight. The NSL gag order prevents the recipient from speaking out about personal experiences with the law. The ACLU sought an emergency court order to lift the gag order, so the client could participate in meaningful discussions of the PATRIOT Act with Congress, the press, and the public. The government argued that the gag order blocked the release of the client’s identity, not his ability to speak about the law itself, and that revealing the client’s identity could jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism and spying. U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled the gag order caused immediate and irreparable harm in preventing the group from revealing the fact that it received the National Security Letter. Judge Hall found that the specific group having received an NSL letter is relevant to the national debate about the PATRIOT Act and that its speech as a recipient would be viewed differently than the speech of a non-recipient. The ruling concluded the act did infringe upon the plaintiff’s speech rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who is also a plaintiff in the case, representing "John Doe," filed the lawsuit on August 9 against the U.S. Department of Justice. The case was originallyunder seal in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The U.S. Court of Appeals set an expedited schedule for appeal, bearing in mind that Congress is set to take up final discussion of PATRIOT Act reauthorization in the next few weeks.