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ACLU quotes anonymous nat'l security letter plaintiff in NY court



Associated Press Writer

5:14 PM EST, November 5, 2007


The U.S. government on Monday appealed a ruling striking down a key provision of the USA Patriot Act that prevents Internet service providers from telling their customers if the government has demanded private information from them.

The government's decision to appeal a September ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to put out a release quoting the unidentified plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the law.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit argued by ACLU lawyers has been identified only as John Doe, the president of a small Internet service provider who has faced a gag order for more than three years because of the law regarding so-called national security letters, or NSLs.

The law lets the government acquire telephone, e-mail and financial records about Americans and foreigners without a judge's approval. It also lets the government impose gag orders on the recipients of the letters to prevent them from acknowledging the probes.

In the ACLU release, the plaintiff in the case complained that the statutes "give the government far too much power and that the secrecy surrounding the statutes is excessive."

The plaintiff said the gag provisions of the law "make it difficult or impossible for people like me _ people who have firsthand experience with the NSL statute _ to discuss their specific concerns with the public, the press and Congress."

The plaintiff added: "This seems to be counterintuitive to everything I assumed about this country's commitment to free speech and the value of political discourse."

The judge, in his ruling, said the NSL statute was so improper that to let the law stand might turn an innocent legislative step into "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."

The judge had stayed the effect of his ruling so it could be appealed. The government provided notice of its appeal in a one-paragraph letter to the court and later had no comment.

In March, the government released a report showing the FBI issued approximately 8,500 national security letter requests in 2000, the year before the passage of the Patriot Act. The number of requests rose to 39,000 by 2003 and to 56,000 in 2004 before falling to 47,000 in 2005. Most of the requests sought telephone billing records, telephone or e-mail subscriber information or electronic communication transactional records.

The judge wrote that most recipients have little or no incentive to challenge the orders, and only two cases have been filed in federal court.

The judge said the NSLs let the government unmask the identity of Internet users engaged in anonymous speech in online discussions and obtain itemized lists of all e-mails sent and received by people.

Copyright ? 2007, The Associated Press

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