I’ve covered how uncomfortable I am with the Patriot Act since the dawn of this blog in 2003, but this post from Mary really drove it home. It covers a Washington Post story that details how, in just two years, the FBI issued more than 140,000 – yes that’s 140 THOUSAND – “national security letters,” in essence, requests for detailed information on the Database of Intentions that have no requirement of probable cause or judicial review.
Last Friday the Post ran a story from an anonymous but verified source. Read this story. From it:
Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand — a context that the FBI still won’t let me discuss publicly — I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.
Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn’t abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.
The piece concludes:
…At some point — a point we passed long ago — the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government’s use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.
I completely agree.