October 21, 2014

Patriot Act Stats Won’t Be Revealed

By Norman Oder and Andrew Albanese

Justice Dept. won’t detail libraries visited; ACLU files FOIA request

How many court orders have been issued to libraries under the USA Patriot Act? We don’t know, as the Justice Department has refused to answer questions about the act posed by the House Judiciary Committee.

Rather, the Justice Department said it would send replies to the House Intelligence Committee, which has neither sought the information nor is charged to oversee the act. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told the New York Times
that the Justice Department’s letter reflected a position of “we will tell you what we want you to know, and we won’t tell you anything else.”

One question asked whether and how often the act has been used to obtain records from a library, bookstore, or newspaper. The response: the answer “is classified, and will be provided in an appropriate channel.” Harold H. Koh, professor at Yale Law School and a former Clinton administration official, said the Patriot Act might be the first example of when “traditional law enforcement is moved under the umbrella of foreign intelligence surveillance, the more difficult it will be to continue the traditional Congressional process of oversight of law enforcement activities.”

Following the department’s stone-walling, House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), whose committee has oversight of the Justice Department, said that he may take the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to Attorney General John Ashcroft if satisfactory answers to his 50 written questions were not forthcoming by Labor Day.

ACLU files FOIA request

Also, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Justice. It seeks information on 14 different categories of agency records, including the number of times the government has directed a library, bookstore, or newspaper to produce “tangible things,” such as the titles of books an individual has purchased or borrowed or the identity of individuals who have purchased or borrowed specific books.

The ACLU, which made the request jointly with the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, said it was concerned that the new surveillance laws threaten the First Amendment – protected activities of book publishers, investigative journalists, booksellers, librarians, and readers.

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