At a federal court hearing Wednesday in Connecticut, the name of the client was never disclosed, the subject of the federal inquiry remained unidentified and the context for the exercise was kept top secret, reports the New York Times. For all its intrigue, an important principle was at stake: the right of law enforcement officials to use the USA Patriot Act to demand library records in counterterrorism investigations.
The issue was debated by senior lawyers from the Justice Department and the United States attorney’s office in Connecticut on one side, and an array of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union on the other. Earlier this month, the civil liberties group sued the federal government in United States District Court here after federal agents served a request, known as a national security letter, upon a Connecticut-based organization that is a member of the American Library Association. The request was for “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs” related to an investigation. Little is known publicly about that investigation, and for now the civil liberties group’s client, or the plaintiff, is being referred to only as “John Doe” because a provision in the Patriot Act allows law enforcement authorities to insist that such requests remain confidential.