[News] F.B.I., Using Patriot Act, Demands Library's Records
News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 26 08:32:38 EDT 2005
F.B.I., Using Patriot Act, Demands Library's Records
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: August 26, 2005
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 - Using its expanded power under the antiterrorism law
known as the USA Patriot Act, the F.B.I. is demanding library records from
a Connecticut institution as part of an intelligence investigation, the
American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday.
The demand is the first confirmed instance in which the Federal Bureau of
Investigation has used the law in this way, federal officials and the
A.C.L.U. said. The government's power to demand access to library borrowing
records and other material showing reading habits has been the single most
divisive issue in the debate over whether Congress should extend key
elements of the act after this year.
Because of federal secrecy requirements, the A.C.L.U. said it was barred
from disclosing the identity of the institution or other main details of
the bureau's demand, but court papers indicate that the target is a library
in the Bridgeport area.
The A.C.L.U., a leading critic of the Bush administration over the Patriot
Act and its antiterrorism policies, brought a lawsuit on Aug. 9 in Federal
District Court in Bridgeport on behalf of the Connecticut institution. The
suit was filed under seal, and names and other information were redacted in
a public version it released Thursday.
The A.C.L.U. said it would seek an emergency order allowing it to discuss
details of the case publicly. A hearing has been set for Wednesday in
federal court in Bridgeport.
In the debate over the future of the antiterrorism law, the administration
has said that it has never used the so-called library provision in the law,
which falls under Section 215, to demand records from libraries or booksellers.
The A.C.L.U. said that in the Connecticut case, the bureau was using a
separate investigative tool, a type of administrative subpoena known as a
national security letter, to get records related to library patrons,
reading materials and patrons' use of the Internet.
The bureau's power to use national security letters to demand records
without a judge's approval was expanded under the antiterrorism law. Last
year, a federal judge in Manhattan struck down part of the subpoena
provision as unconstitutional, in part because it allowed for no judicial
oversight, but the Justice Department is appealing the ruling.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the demand for
the Connecticut library records "shows that our supposed hysteria over the
Patriot Act wasn't so hysterical after all."
"This is a prime example of the government using its Patriot Act powers
without any judicial oversight to get sensitive information on law-abiding
Americans," Mr. Romero said.
Officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. refused comment on the
issue because it involves pending litigation. But one government official,
speaking on condition of anonymity because of the litigation, cautioned
against reading too much into the bureau's demand for the records in
Because the law prevents public disclosure concerning such demands for
records, the official said: "Not all the facts have come out here. But
national security letters are a legitimate investigative tool, and to draw
conclusions without knowing what the underlying facts are, people have to
be careful about that."
The letter from the F.B.I., which was included in the lawsuit, said the
material being sought was needed as part of an investigation "to protect
against internal terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The
letter warned that the recipient was prohibited "from disclosing to any
person that the F.B.I. has sought or obtained access to information or
records under these provisions."
The lawsuit said the Connecticut organization, which is a member of the
American Library Association, "strictly guards the confidentiality and
privacy of its library and Internet records, and believes it should not be
forced to disclose such records without a showing of compelling need and
approval by a judge."
While the antiterrorism law is still awaiting final reauthorization by
Congress, both the Senate and the House moved last month to extend at least
temporarily the government's power to demand library records in terrorism
Administration officials have repeatedly emphasized that they have no
interest in investigating the reading habits of law-abiding Americans.
But the administration has faced strong criticism from groups like the
American Library Association, which released a survey of its members in
June showing that law enforcement officials had contacted libraries at
least 200 times since 2001 with formal and informal inquiries about their
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