George Christian Urges Congress to Reconsider Parts of the USA PATRIOT Act

Office for Intellectual Freedom

On April 11, George Christian, one of the four “Does” of Doe v. Gonzales, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Doe v. Gonzales was a challenge to the FBI’s demand, through a National Security Letter (NSL) in 2005, that Connecticut’s Library Connection, a computer consortium serving 28 libraries, turn over patrons’ computer use records.

In his testimony (PDF), Christian spoke on his experiences in being served with an NSL and being gagged from discussing it, along with those of his fellow Does—librarians Janet Nocek, Barbara Bailey, and Peter Chase. He asked the Senators “to take special note of the uses and abuses of NSLs, in libraries and bookstores and other places where higher First Amendment standards should be considered”:

Ours is a story we hope will encourage the U.S. Congress to reconsider parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and in particular, the NSL powers that can needlessly subject innocent people to fishing expeditions of their personal information with no judicial review. Because of the gag order, you, our Senators and elected representatives and the American public, are denied access to the stories and information about these abuses. This is information you need to conduct oversight, work for appropriate changes to current law and seek to protect our constitutional rights.

The hearing—”Responding to the Inspector General’s Findings of Improper Use of National Security Letters (NSL) by the FBI”—was held in response to a 126-page audit (PDF) by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. As reported by the ALA Public Information Office in “Statement from ALA President Leslie Burger on Justice Dept. Investigation into FBI, NSLs,” Fine’s report “showed numerous violations of policy and several potential violations of law in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) distribution and enforcement of National Security Letters (NSLs). NSLs carry particular significance for libraries, as virtually all of the libraries in the United States provide public access to the Internet, and are thus potentially vulnerable to the demand for records.”

See also USA PATRIOT Act: Doe v. Gonzales, which provides information on the FBI’s serving Library Connection with an NSL in August 2005. See also USA PATRIOT Act News, USA PATRIOT Act and Intellectual Freedom, PBS Interview with George Christian, and privacy and confidentiality policies, statements, and guidelines of the American Library Association.

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