Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gagging Democracy

I just discovered this 2007 essay from the Washington Post, a very unpleasant reminder of the tyrannical behavior our government has engaged in in the aim of preventing terrorism:
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. . . . I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

This really needs to stop, and so far as I understand the matter, it has not. The Obama administration may (or may not) being doing less of this sort of thing, but they have done nothing to alter the laws and policies that make it possible.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I note that the article was published in 2007. I'm sure the Obama administration has at least not abandoned gag orders etc. in principle, since, as far as I know, they've refused to abandon any of the Bush Patriot Act-type policies in principle. But your leader ("More tyrannical behavior from our government”) is misleading, since the article predates the current administration.