Gag Orders

How can the abuse of government power be checked when it’s a crime to even talk about the abuse? Important and outrageous story from The Washington Post.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand — a context that the FBI still won’t let me discuss publicly — I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn’t abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case — including the mere fact that I received an NSL — from my colleagues, my family and my friends.

The Post writes “the author — who would have preferred to be named — is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author’s attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.”


Didn't the case Doe v Ashcroft effectively say that most of the demands in the "National Security Letter" itself were unconstitutional?

Unless I misunderstand the ruling, why are these gag-orders still being litigated from scratch?

The date on the article is 2007. It was written before that ruling.

Ah! Meaning this whole discussion is now purely academic.

If people knew the terrorists were looking for a new boxcutter source we'd be fu#@ed.

(for those a little slow on the uptake, my point is even if you agree with secrecy, something isn't a national security secret just because the people wanting to control information say so any more than saying something is a public good makes it a public good. There is nothing about terrorism that secrecy helps national security.)

This is exactly how it worked in the USSR. You'd be visited by KGB, told to become an informant and disclosing any of it would be a crime against State. You'd be threatened if refused and inconvenienced in many ways when did.

Umm, sorry for all bold. Improperly closed tag followed by no preview and no warning.

The author is a hero and should, in a just world where federal officials took their oath of office seriously, be acknowledged as such in the next State of the Union address. Same for the ACLU lawyers helping him.

I used to be a libertarian a while back, and it is disappointing to see how little libertarians talk about these kind of things anymore. Now it's all about money. Nice to see it getting some attention though.

4 whole comments. Not a lot of controversy here, of course, but maybe not a lot of passion either? It's a shame.

Whoa, I'm slacking, we are up to 8! :^)

This is an economics blog, but have you been paying attention to what I've been saying on here at every available opportunity? Lew Rockwell?

And the money stuff is important too, maybe the most important. The Fed is Satan. Without the money and borrowing and money creation and the centralization of everything, these goons don't have the time or hubris to go around with these boondoggles. It's not "we should work on this versus that," it's all the same soup.

Because historically smaller governments have been better for human freedom? I'm curious to know what societies you would specifically name that would be positive examples of this happening.

What are you talking about? Since Obama was elected, libertarians are the only ones talking about this.

Ironic since most of this (including this specific instance) happened during the bush administration. Besides, glen greenwald is probably the loudest voice on this, and I am pretty sure he is left of centre. Maybe you should be visiting more liberal websites, since firedoglake has been a fierce critic of the Obama administration's civil liberty track record. Finally, who do you think the Obama administration was railing about when complaining about the professional left. I doubt that libertarians fall under that category.

Democrats seem to trust Government more in the area of Health Care than Republicans do so why do the Republicans trust Government more with powers like this.

Perhaps you can point to how the Democrats' actions in power differ from the Republicans' in this area? Otherwise, we're just talking rhetorical differences.

1. Most elected Republicans support Social Security, and thus they support massive government intervention into healthcare.

2. Most elected Democrats support the Patriot Act, national security letters, etc.

But most democratic voters don't support the patriot act. A significantly larger proportion of elected democrats don't support the patriot act, than republican representatives.

To say both parties have the same position is a completely false equivalence. Sure elected democrats are not as against it as I would like, but they are far better as a whole than the republicans in this area.

Doesn't make up for the state abuse of power but :

That's one case against thousands where sheeple (oh, sorry, good citizens of the land of freedom) obediently supplied all the information they were asked to supply. From the link:

In July, the Obama administration proposed to expand the statute to allow the FBI to get Americans' Internet activity records without court approval or even suspicion of wrongdoing.

The slide toward USSA continues steadily. Policing is easier in police state.

My personal experience meeting FBI agents, and the experience of my friends (we are in local government jurisprudence) has been that 1. they are among the biggest personal assholes on the planet, 2. every cliche about how they love to scare people and abuse power is absolutely true, 3. they are precisely like the KGB in almost every particular, and 4. they are among the most dangerous enemies of democracy on the planet, and 5. they are stupid, incompetent bunglers who rarely make good cases.

I wish none of this was true. But it all is.

When I was a little kid, I thought law enforcement was cool -- I was a product of TV and the myths cranked out by Hoover and the rest. Now I see the truth, and it scares the hell out of me. It was a disgruntled FBI employee that brought Nixon down. Our intelligence agencies are completely, horribly, out of control.

Just curious -- how do you feel about the health care reform act?

Local and State police forces often nickname the FBI things like Fucking Big Idiots and Fan Belt Inspectors for precisely those reasons...

Since we dont really know the content of the "crime" of information, how can you really have an opinion on if it is fair or not. If the government is trying to bring down a child pornography ring then give them the info. If they are just abusing power to gain some useless crap from an honest business person, then thats a problem.

That's why we don't need gag orders!

Marketing Gal...they can have a judge give them a warrant for busting kiddie porn! I hope you are kidding. They can end the gag order now and tell everyone they were trying to bust a kiddie-porn ring if that is the case...instead they continue to act like the jack booted thugs they are. Don't you see that?

The neo-con state worshippers and the democrat state worshippers will never admit what has happened. The country is going down the toilet bowl and it isn't even a slow proccess.

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