A gag order is very difficult to deal with. A person cannot tell her family or friends she has received a demand from the government to turn in information on another person. Whether you agree with the security-letter provision or not, receiving such a letter is an emotionally wrenching experience.
And if the government requires you to compromise your professional and personal ethics, it can be an intensely disturbing experience. You feel like a character in an Orwellian book. You feel trapped in a world that others like you may inhabit, but you cannot reach outside of that world to find out.
Ms. Nocek was aided in a lawsuit against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union and is now free to discuss parts of the case. Last March an anonymous citizen wrote this to the Washington Post:
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.
I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.
The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.
I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.
So here's my question: How much longer do we have to live like this? All of this surveillance and the best we've turned up are several cells of Ninja clad goofballs playing YouTube worthy games, not actual terrorists. Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, told Tim Russert yesterday that he is unaware of any Al Qaida sleeper cells in the United States. Couldn't that mean Al Qaida has been eradicated and we can declare the homefront battle on the Global War on Terror over and restore our civil liberties we have "temporarily suspended" to deal with the threat?
Silly Rabbit, republican tricks are for kids. No, our president just keeps amassing more and more authority pressing the 'fear' and 'panic' buttons to get the sheep to go along. And he's using it in areas that have nothing to do with National Security.