A Connecticut organization that received an order from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over the records of library patrons should be allowed to identify itself publicly, a federal judge ruled on Friday. The FBI issued the order under a provision of the USA Patriot Act, a controversial law intended to help prevent domestic terrorism.
Despite Friday’s ruling, the name of the Connecticut organization may not be known until next week at the earliest. The judge hearing a challenge to the act, Janet C. Hall of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Conn., has given the government an opportunity to appeal her decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and government officials have indicated they will do that. If the appeals court does not stay Judge Hall’s ruling by September 20, the organization can be identified.
Judge Hall’s ruling is available here. The Chronicle article notes that in the ruling, Judge Hall writes: “The information that is before the court suggests strongly that revealing Doe’s identity will not harm the investigation.”
The larger context of that statement in the ruling is this:
The government argues that it has an interest in preventing the disclosure of Doe’s identity because disclosure of the NSL recipient’s identity may, inter alia, permit the subject of the NSL, or those involved in the subject matter of the NSL, to deduce that the government is aware of their/his/her identity, leading them to flee or go deeper under cover. … Even affording the government deference in its judgment about national security concerns, the court cannot conclude on the record in this case that, in these circumstances, the government has a compelling interest in barring the disclosure of Doe’s identity. Nothing specific about this investigation has been put before the court that supports the conclusion that revealing Doe’s identity will harm it. The record supplied by the defendants suggests that the disclosure of Doe’s identity “may” or “could” harm investigations related to national security generally. … Just such a speculative record has been rejected in the past by the Supreme Court in the context of a claim of national security.
Jessamyn also picks up on some of the more interesting language in the ruling.