WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday ordered full disclosure of records in a court battle between FBI terrorism investigators and Connecticut librarians.
Using a national security letter rather than a subpoena signed by a judge, the FBI sought records last year of a library computer in Connecticut. Such a letter allows the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena.
Four librarians who received the demand resisted, though they said they might have been willing to comply with a similar demand had it been approved by a judge, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented them.
The librarians had been under a gag order that prohibited them from even acknowledging the existence of the demand for the material.
The FBI dropped its demand for the computer records in June, saying it had discounted a potential terrorism threat. Last month, the FBI said it would not seek to enforce nondisclosure in the case.
The court fight had been waged largely in secret and with the battle over, the ACLU last week asked the Supreme Court to release the records in the case.
Ginsburg directed that the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York and a lower federal court in Connecticut unseal the material.
The national security letter sought subscriber and billing information related to a computer used within a 45-minute time period Feb. 15, 2005, when the potential threat was transmitted from a library computer. Authorities have declined to say where exactly that computer was located, but the request did not involve reading lists of library patrons. The potential threat was in an e-mail.
``We concluded that based on the passage of time as well as other information we've been able to develop that this threat is probably not viable," US Attorney Kevin O'Connor in Connecticut had said.