October 14, 2005 7:00 AM PDT

Police blotter: Patriot Act wins a round

"Police blotter" is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law. This episode: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects an emergency appeal from a library organization regarding the Patriot Act.

What: A library organization asks the U.S. Supreme Court to grant an emergency appeal to lift a gag order related to the FBI's request for Internet records under the Patriot Act.

When: Decided on Oct. 7 by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who hears emergency appeals from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Outcome: Ginsburg refuses to step in, saying the Second Circuit should handle the case for now.

What happened: When Congress approved the Patriot Act in the frenzied legislative response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the FBI received new powers to send secret National Security Letters (NSLs) that demand business records (view related PDF).

Until that time, NSLs could be sent only when an investigation was directly related to international terrorism. Thanks to Section 505 of the Patriot Act, NSLs now can be used more broadly (view related PDF), and individual FBI agents received the power to issue them.

Recipients are prohibited by law from disclosing that they received an NSL, even to their attorney: "No wire or electronic communication service provider...shall disclose to any person that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained access to information." One court has already ruled such a law is an unlawful gag order.

An unnamed member of the American Library Association received an NSL (view PDF of the NSL) demanding "any and all subscriber information, billing information, and access logs of any person or entity" using a specific Internet Protocol address during a certain time.

In response, the organization filed a lawsuit claiming it had the right to describe its experience to Congress in general terms--without disclosing details of the NSL. A federal district court agreed that the First Amendment permitted such general disclosure, but the Second Circuit didn't.

Ginsburg rejected the library group's request to lift its gag order, saying that the Second Circuit was moving quickly--oral arguments are set for Nov. 2--and that it was premature to intervene. (The Bush administration has urged Congress to keep Section 505 of the Patriot Act and further expand police powers.)

Excerpt from Ginsburg's opinion: "Although the (library organization's) arguments are cogent, I have taken into account several countervailing considerations in declining to vacate the stay kept in place by the Second Circuit pending its disposition of the appeal. I am mindful, first, that interference with an interim order of a court of appeals cannot be justified solely because a circuit justice disagrees about the harm a party may suffer. Respect for the assessment of the court of appeals is especially warranted when that court is proceeding to adjudication on the merits with due expedition."

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Welcome to AmeriKa
Now they just lead the sheep to slaughter!
Thank YOUR CONGRESSMAN at the voting booth!!
Posted by Vetter83 (50 comments )
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where does
This use of Amerika come from? The mini series? the Book by Franz Kafka?
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
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Patriot Act to Represent a Dark Period in History
The Patriot Act represents one of the darker episodes in our
history -- much like the McCarthy era. Worse, they now want to
make much of it permanent.

The basis of granting these sweeping powers to the government
is one of fear, just like in the 1950s. But now, instead of
Communism, the new buzzword is Terrorism.

Yet again, we have learned nothing from our own history and
thus we are doomed to repeat the past mistakes.
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
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Welcome to the new world order
Well folks here it is. The dark days of humanity still reign supreme. For all of you 'patriots' in the States out there, let this be a warning to you... YOUR GOVERNMENT IS SPYING ON YOU! The funny this is that it doesnt even need to warn you that its doing it and doesn't even need to have a valid reason, just a suspicion. Or if George Bush is anything to go by, the security forces could be told by God Almighty himself to do it!

For those of you who don't read books, may i suggest that you go and buy a copy of George Orwell's fantastic eye opener of a book: 1984. You will see striking similarities to that and what your government is doing (not that the United Kingdom is much better, we are slowly catching up)....
Posted by drifted (10 comments )
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and the fearmongers jerk their knees
A NSL only applies to information in the hands of a third party - information that is not even implied to have any privacy attached. Phone records, credit information, library records, etc. The knee-jerk reactions to this shows the hysteria among a certain segment. The patriot act did not create the notion of NSL's. That goes back into the Jimmy Carter era, and maybe even earlier. All the patriot act did was extend the authority of the FBI to issue these in investigations relating to terrorism. Prior to the patriot act, if the FBI wanted to look at your library records, they could still do it - and just claim you were a drug smuggler or spy. The FBI was just as able to 'get you' or 'spy on you' then as it is now. So anyone complaining about them NOW, who wasnt complaining about them in prior administrations, is a either a hypocrite, or just freaking out hoping to score some political points.
Posted by (402 comments )
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The fearmongers have a right to be worried.
The reason is because the Patriot Act circumvents due process, one of the beliefs that the patriots fought for.

Is it just me, or has anyone else realized that everything that the Patriot Act allows the government to do is exactly why the American Revolution took place? The patriots are rolling over in their graves because a) this law undermines their efforts and b) this law is named after them.

I'm sure George Washington would be disgusted.
Posted by dam7ri (67 comments )
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Get a Reality Check
We didnt think it was named after Daniel Boone;
The Double Speak language of the title "The Patriot Act" is a sham and meant to deceive, it fools many sleeping Americans, who trust our government leaders to be honest and truthful, and many stupid ones too. Dont underestimate many of us have been complaining about this for many years. And just because you say that you are "so informed and for us to carry on in ignorance" It really shows you arrogance, which is par for the course for not only the disrespect for the constitution but insidiously your disrespect for real fellow American that can see the ruination of Countries constitution and the destruction of what "REAL PATRIOTS" fight for.
Now it would help to read up on what real Patriots do fight for, rather than protecting trumped up Terror, and phony WMD threats, etc.
You are completely missing the point and irony of what the words Patriot means. It sure doesnt mean to roll over and let the freedoms and rights this countries provides all of us, go down the toilet. You can thank me latter that Im fighting for your rights to be free! For no doubt, your conceited arrogance will be keeping you blinded! The Failure of the government to stop 911 and subsequently turn on its own citizens is appalling &I challenge the idea that their failure becomes anything close to what Patriot is supposed to mean.
Posted by zebra3334 (1 comment )
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Congress didn't read what they voted on: thats when we're not a democracy?
Congressmen have said that they didn't finish reading the vote and didn't have a chance to: it was voted on accordign to somepeopel "midnight" during the Anthrax attacks on Frist's office not too long after 911.

But if they didn't completely read it- and according to one congressman they don't ever really read the entire bills, it would take too much time and they wouldn't be able to get to other bills.
Posted by youth+100488 (4 comments )
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Business As Usual
Incompetence and dereliction of duty by Congress is so pervasive and long-standing that we now take it for granted. There's no legitimate reason for a bill to be so large it can't be read in a short time. These laws are overwritten and deliberately obfuscated to allow s**t like this to occur.
Posted by alflanagan (115 comments )
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