Pernicious Effects of National Security Gag Orders

This is an important article:

My National Security Letter Gag Order :

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.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case — including the mere fact that I received an NSL — from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

Read the whole thing. And worry.

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5 Responses to Pernicious Effects of National Security Gag Orders

  1. Larry Thorson says:

    This is Kafka. This is Catch-22. We are marching lockstep in a downward spiral to the dark place where Dick Cheney is in charge. And to think that we supposedly are leading the world to a better democracy.
    A campaign to end this is essential to repair the soul of this country.

  2. Ugh says:

    Can this be constitutional under the 1st amendment? Presumably this guy never signed a contract with the CIA or agreed to be subject to the rules for access to classified information? Pentagon Papers case anyone?

  3. BroD says:

    Support our Constitution–Impeach Bush.

  4. aidan says:

    Larry’s comment is exactly right. The irony of claiming to be in the business of promoting “freedom and democracy” abroad while busily undermining it at home is one paradox there is no explaining away.

    But I mean, bad is this, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Privacy invasion goes on at all levels, all the time. It’s become almost business-as-usual.

    I have no doubt the FBI conduct themselves in this fashion on a frequent basis, and people likely comply. God knows how much info is getting passed through back channels none of us know anything about.

    Google is the least of our worries.

  5. Be Landy says:

    I too found this op-ed very compelling. Like the Kafka comparison — spot on.

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