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 above is from Eric Lichtblau's "F.B.I., Using Patriot Act, Demands Library's Records" in this morning's New York Times and it's our spotlight article from the Times. You need to know about this topic. Use the link to read more if you use links. If you don't use links, be aware of the story.
We'll also note this from another article in today's paper but also by Eric Lichtblau, "Democrats Want Official to Be Reinstated Over Report on Profiling:"
The White House is replacing the official, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, who is director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, months after he complained that senior political officials at the department were seeking to distort publicly the findings of the statistical report by his agency.
The report found that while drivers from different racial or ethnic groups were stopped by the police at essentially the same rate, blacks and Hispanics were much more likely to have their vehicles searched or be subjected to the use of force once they were stopped.
Gina e-mails to note the latest editorial from The Nation entitled "Lessons of Camp Casey:"
As Congress prepares to return to Washington, key Democrats--including presidential aspirants Kerry, Clinton and Biden--continue to sidestep the Iraq dilemma. Instead of calling for an exit plan, leading Democrats talk about adding more troops in order to "win." This stance puts them in an implicit alliance with the neocons, who blame insufficient commitment, rather than the occupation itself, for the collapsed policy.
Instead, Democrats should be following the example of those on both sides of the aisle who are calling for withdrawal. A House resolution known as the Homeward Bound Act, which was introduced by four Representatives, including Republican Walter Jones and Democrat Neil Abercrombie, and which already has fifty co-sponsors, would require Bush to put together a plan by the end of this year for bringing all US forces home from Iraq, beginning no later than October 1, 2006. Russell Feingold recently became the first senator to call for withdrawal by a specific date: the end of 2006. His rationale--that this would remove a key reason for the continuing violence--was echoed by GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, who told ABC's This Week, "We should start figuring out how we get out of there.... I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we're there, I think, the further destabilization will occur."
As part of an effort to find a way out of Iraq, Representative Lynn Woolsey is organizing an unofficial Congressional hearing on September 15 (modeled on the one organized by Representative John Conyers about the Downing Street memos). At that hearing, academics, military personnel and other experts will discuss strategies for Washington to achieve military disengagement from Iraq while still playing a constructive role in the rebuilding of Iraqi society. Also in September, leading peace groups will present a petition to Congress that lays out an exit strategy. This is the time for activists, who are preparing a Washington march on September 24, to reach out beyond their own ranks to welcome families and soldiers who may have initially supported the war out of loyalty or idealism, but who now feel betrayed.
Sam e-mails to note Dave Lindorff's "Radioactive Wounds of War: Tests on returning troops suggest serious health consequences of depleted uranium use in Iraq" (In These Times):
Gerard Matthew thought he was lucky. He returned from his Iraq tour a year and a half ago alive and in one piece. But after the New York State National Guardsman got home, he learned that a bunkmate, Sgt. Ray Ramos, and a group of N.Y. Guard members from another unit had accepted an offer by the New York Daily News and reporter Juan Gonzalez to be tested for depleted uranium (DU) contamination, and had tested positive.
Matthew, 31, decided that since he'd spent much of his time in Iraq lugging around DU-damaged equipment, he'd better get tested too. It turned out he was the most contaminated of them all.
Matthew immediately urged his wife to get an ultrasound check of their unborn baby. They discovered the fetus had a condition common to those with radioactive exposure: atypical syndactyly. The right hand had only two digits.
So far Victoria Claudette, now 13 months old, shows no other genetic disorders and is healthy, but Matthew feels guilty for causing her deformity and angry at a government that never warned him about DU's dangers.
Juan Gonzalez allows for this transition of the scheduled topics for today's Democracy Now! (e-mailed by Rod):
Democracy Now!'s continuing coverage of Camp Casey
Reports from Haiti of a massacre at a soccer stadium
We'll close with this ACLU press release (on the same topic we opened with):
"ACLU Seeks Emergency Court Order to Lift Gag As Congress Prepares to Make Patriot Act Permanent"
NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today disclosed that the FBI has used a controversial Patriot Act power to demand records from an organization that possesses "a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons." The FBI demand was disclosed in a new lawsuit filed in Connecticut, which remains under a heavy FBI gag order.
The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that its client can participate in the public debate about the Patriot Act as Congress prepares to reauthorize or amend it in September.
"Our client wants to tell the American public about the dangers of allowing the FBI to demand library records without court approval," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, the lead lawyer in the case. "If our client could speak, he could explain why Congress should adopt additional safeguards that would limit Patriot Act powers."
Papers reveal that the client, whose identity must remain a secret under the gag, "strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records." The client is a member of the American Library Association.
The lawsuit challenges the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, such as the identity of a person who has visited a particular Web site on a library computer, or who has engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. The Patriot Act dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit, ACLU v. Gonzales, was filed on August 9, and is pending before Judge Janet Hall of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It names as defendants Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and an FBI official whose identity remains under seal. Both the national ACLU and its Connecticut branch said they were forced to file the lawsuit initially under seal to avoid penalties for violating the gag provision, which they are challenging on First Amendment grounds.
The court has set an emergency hearing for Wednesday, August 31, 2005 on the ACLU’s request to lift the gag.
Whether the Patriot Act has been used to obtain information about library patrons has been a flashpoint in the Patriot Act debate. The government has repeatedly dismissed the concerns of librarians that the act could force them to violate their ethical responsibility to protect the privacy of library users. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft even called these concerns about the Patriot Act "baseless hysteria."
Congress is currently undertaking efforts to reauthorize the Patriot Act, with both the House and Senate having passed different versions of legislation before adjourning for the August recess. While the ACLU has not endorsed either bill, it has said the Senate bill takes steps in the right direction.
"As Congress comes back to work out the differences in the House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Patriot Act, a commitment to freedom must prevail," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The more we learn about the Patriot Act, the clearer it is that too much power was granted to the government, with too few safeguards against abuse. While neither reauthorization bill is perfect, we call on Congress to use the Senate bill as its guide as it reconsiders the Patriot Act."
In an earlier ACLU lawsuit challenging the NSL power, a federal court issued a landmark decision in September 2004 striking down the NSL statute, saying that "democracy abhors undue secrecy." The court held that the NSL law violates the First and Fourth Amendments, but allowed the law to stand while the government is appealing the decision.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is expected to hear the government's appeal of that lawsuit this fall. The government recently asked the court to delay the appeal while Congress debates reauthorization of the Patriot Act. However, the ACLU opposes any delay, citing the need for urgent court action so that its John Doe client in the first lawsuit can also participate in the public debate.
"Judicial review is a key part to our system of checks and balances," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "As we consider expanding and extending the Patriot Act, this case shows us what might become routine if we don't fix the law."
The ACLU has created a special Web page on its National Security Letter litigation, which includes links to today's legal papers, online at www.aclu.org/nsl.
Attorneys in the case are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU and Annette M. Lamoreaux of the ACLU of Connecticut.
The redacted version of the ACLU’s complaint is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=18956&c=262.
The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.