A panel of federal judges in New York City raised questions yesterday about secrecy provisions in the USA Patriot Act, expressing concerns that the law indefinitely silences those swept up in investigations, the New York Times reports. Judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard arguments in two cases involving a Connecticut library group and a New York Internet service provider that were asked to provide information about their patrons in relation to government counterterrorism investigations.
The judges seemed skeptical of arguments by a Justice Department lawyer who said it was within constitutional limits for the government to prevent recipients of such requests from ever speaking about them. “The troubling aspect from my standpoint is it’s without limit,” Senior Judge Richard J. Cardamone said about the nondisclosure provision. “There’s no end to how long you have to keep this secret.” Last year, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero of Manhattan sided with the Internet service provider that expanded federal powers to issue national security letters, through the Patriot Act, violated the First and Fourth Amendments. On Sept. 9, Judge Janet C. Hall of U.S. District Court in Bridgeport ruled that the provision barring public disclosure violated the Connecticut group’s right to free speech.