A federal judge ruled on Friday that the government cannot continue to bar the representatives of a nonprofit organization from speaking out about the sweeping powers that the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act gives investigators seeking library records.
In a ruling being followed by librarians, civil libertarians and others involved in the continuing debate over reauthorization of the law, Judge Janet C. Hall of United States District Court granted an emergency request by the American Civil Liberties Union for a preliminary injunction. Judge Hall found that the government fell short in meeting the heavy burden of proof needed to argue that national security interests warrant ignoring the organization's First Amendment right to free speech.
The 29-page decision, if permitted to stand, would lift the federally imposed order that is keeping the nonprofit organization from identifying itself as the recipient of a recent request for patron information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The judge, however, granted a stay along with her ruling giving the United States attorney's office until Sept. 20 to persuade the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn her decision. If that court fails to act quickly, she wrote, then the plaintiffs would be free to identify themselves and comment on some aspects of the case.
The above is from Alison Leigh Cowan's "Plaintiffs Win Round in Lawsuit on Patriot Act" in this morning's New York Times. Call it the good news (so far) for today (Trevor will enjoy this article). But note that Cowan mentions in a footnote that the verdict appears to indicate that this provision (the one effecting libary records) has been used in the past ("many") but no one's brought suit before. (The plantiffs, Cowan reports, are thought to be " Library Connection, a library consortium in Windsor, Conn., that serves as the back office for many libraries in the Hartford area.")
That footnote needs to be explored in a future story since we've had reassurance (to use the word the Times is so nervous nelly around: "lies") that the provision hasn't been used. Hopefully, one of the Times op-ed writers (or an editorial) will pick up on it since news doesn't get a lot of weight in the actual reporting these days. (It really doesn't get a follow up either. The follow ups come from the thought pieces on the editorial and op-ed pages.)
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