Privacy Work-Around


In 2003, the chief librarian of the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., was able to warn her patrons about whether the FBI had served a National Security Letter (NSL) demanding information about who was reading what books. She managed that task despite specific provisions in the USA Patriot Act at the time that prohibited librarians or booksellers from revealing to anyone that they'd been issued an NSL.

So, how did the librarian get the word out? By regularly reporting to the library board that no NSL had been issued to any of the city's 10 branches, which was perfectly legal. Everyone knew that if the chief librarian failed to report that nothing had happened, then indeed an NSL had been served.

I like it. Better yet, it would be hard to legislate around this workaround…

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4 Responses to Privacy Work-Around

  1. cathy says:

    And that is precisely why in responding to FOIA requests, there is what is known as a “glomar” response, where you neither admit nor deny that the records exist, but that if they did exist they would be exempt from disclosure due to exemption [fill in # here].

    First used for classified documents where the govt. doesn’t want to admit it’s been doing something, also popularly used when EEO and LR documents are requested

  2. C’mon. I’m surprised to see this reposted seriously on a lawyer’s site. This is the silly geek mentality of “Ha, ha, GOTCHA! Your puny legal system is no match for our ability to hack the rules through LOGICAL INVERSION!”. Anyone who takes that seriously is running a real risk of getting hurt. They’re going to be ruled to have given effective notice through their actions.

    Tracking down the links, it’s clear the story didn’t even happen, it was a conditional future statement.

  3. michael says:

    The story happened: she reported there were no requests.

    I do not believe that anyone who reported there were no requests when there were in fact none could get in trouble. I also don’t believe that someone who refused to report a lie could get in trouble. The government cannot require you to lie for it; certainly there’s nothing in the relevant statutes that would require a lie.

    I believe this is excellent civic action; legal civil disobedience. It shows a commitment to freedom that is good for this country.

  4. If one follows the links (at least they sourced the echoing), it ends up here:

    “In Santa Cruz, where library officials are trying to stir up patrons about the Patriot Act, chief librarian Anne Turner has found a more subtle way to sidestep the gag order, if she ever faces one.

    “At each board meeting I tell them we have not been served by any (search warrants),” she said. “In any months that I don’t tell them that, they’ll know. ” “

    That’s what I meant by a future conditional. That’s different from “An agent actually served an order, and I subverted the order in this manner”. Very different.

    It’s blatantly a scheme to give notice. That’s the whole point!

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