Sunday, March 25, 2007

How Orwellian is that?

The Opinion section of Friday's Post had a column that really caught my eye:

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. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

[snip]

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

So let me get this straight. The author was issued a national security letter under a gag order, the national security letter was rescinded before the FBI got the data they wanted, but the gag order remains? Seriously, how Orwellian is that?

2 comments:

A.E. said...

That is very creepy.

However, I sometimes think we're more in Brave New World territory than Orwell--simply because we as Americans have the power to prevent such abuses of power but we choose not to care.

Anonymous said...

SOUNDS LIKE OPSEC ALL OVERA GAIN WHEN WIRED GOT A LETTER SIGNED BY CONGRESS AND SENATE AND HOMELAND SECURITY BEFORE THE 5-8 FT SCANDAL WAS UNCOVERED. THANK GOD THEY GOT IT BEFORE 5-8 . 5-4 THEY HAD CLEARANCE AND THE FBI GOT THE LETTERS IN TIME.
ANONYMOUS