ungagged

From the Hartford Courant:

I Was Gagged By The Patriot Act While The Attorney General Was Free To Lie About It.

By JANET NOCEK July 22, 2007

When the USA Patriot Act was being reauthorized in 2005,
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales claimed that not one
single abuse of the “national security letters” provision
had been reported.

It must be his poor memory that caused Mr. Gonzales to tell
Congress that no abuse had been reported. What else would
explain why he did not mention the many reports that
described abuses and mismanagement of NSLs – which we now
discover were in his possession before his testimony?

I was one of four library colleagues who challenged an NSL
in the courts around the time of its reauthorization. We
were under a gag order because of the nondisclosure
provision of the NSL section of the Patriot Act. This
happened even though a judge with high-level security
clearance had declared that there was no risk in identifying
us as recipients of an NSL.

We were therefore not allowed to testify to Congress about
our experience with the letters – which seek information,
without court review, on people like library users.

It is more than irksome to now discover that the attorney
general was giving Congress false information – at the same
time that we recipients of NSLs were not allowed to express
our concerns. My colleagues and I were lucky to have our gag
order lifted eventually, with the help of lawyers from the
American Civil Liberties Union, after the federal District
Court found constitutional problems with that section of the
Patriot Act. Unfortunately, we were prohibited from speaking
to the public – or even to our U.S. senators and
representatives – until after the Patriot Act was
reauthorized.

A gag order is very difficult to deal with. A person cannot
tell her family or friends she has received a demand from
the government to turn in information on another person.
Whether you agree with the security-letter provision or not,
receiving such a letter is an emotionally wrenching
experience.

And if the government requires you to compromise your
professional and personal ethics, it can be an intensely
disturbing experience. You feel like a character in an
Orwellian book. You feel trapped in a world that others like
you may inhabit, but you cannot reach outside of that world
to find out.

Reportedly hundreds of thousands of security letters have
been sent out. The recipients remain gagged and can never
speak about their experience, under threat of a five-year
prison sentence. They can never describe the scope and
nature of the information they give to the FBI.

Therefore, it is laughable to assume that no abuse has been
made of the security-letter provision. The secrecy under
which the provision is administered guarantees a lack of
oversight.

The act was reauthorized without significant change to the
nondisclosure provision, which prevents anyone who receives
an national security letter from talking about the
experience, to anyone, ever.

I don’t believe the FBI is to blame for its reported
mismanagement of NSLs. The Patriot Act does not effectively
address court and congressional oversight. It follows that
abuse and mismanagement are practically a given.

Janet Nocek is director of the Portland library and a member of the Executive Board of Library Connection, a Greater Hartford library consortium that received a national security letter in June 2005.


a picture’s worth. ed.

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