April 12, 2006

US drops library gag order in Patriot Act dispute

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The government has backed down in at
least one battle over the Patriot Act by dropping a gag order
imposed on a library that refuses to reveal a reader's
borrowing habits.

The library, thought to be Connecticut, is resisting an FBI
request to produce the records of one of its patrons because
the agency refuses to identify the threat posed by the person.

The library sought to tell its story but was bound to
secrecy under a former provision of the Patriot Act, which was
dropped when Congress renewed the act this year.

The library's bid to identify itself received a boost when
the Justice Department wrote to a federal appeals court on
March 29 explaining that "the FBI has determined that it will
not oppose that request."

The government had previously argued the FBI probe would be
threatened if the name of the library was disclosed.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which announced the
development on Wednesday, called it a victory in its campaign
against what it considers a government intrusion of privacy.

"This calls into question every time the government has
relied on national security to impose secrecy," said ACLU
lawyer Ann Beeson. "The only reason to gag our clients was to
stifle their free speech rights in the debate over the Patriot
Act. The government flip-flop confirms our suspicions."

Once the necessary court procedures are complete, the ACLU
plans to hold a news conference to introduce the librarians.

Meanwhile, the library's challenge to turning over the
patron's records continues.

A Justice Department spokesman was not available for

Congress passed the Patriot Act after the September 11
attacks in 2001 to help guard against terrorism, but civil
libertarians fear it could lead to an abuse of power by giving
the government legal cover to snoop on innocent Americans.