Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

By Susan N. Herman | Go to book overview
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9.
John Doe and the National Security Letter

No more National Security Letters to spy on citizens who are not
suspected of a crime
.—Candidate Barack Obama (2007)

My name is not John Doe and this is not my real voice.—Unidentified
actor reading a statement written by “John Doe” (2007)

THE LIBRARY CONNECTION Four lived under government-imposed silence for about the length of a pregnancy. The John Doe who preceded and inspired them, the president of a small Internet access and consulting business in New York, was gagged for over six years. When he received a National Security Letter in February 2004 demanding that he provide information about one of his clients, “Doe” says he immediately noticed two things: that there was no judge’s signature and that he was commanded not to tell anyone, ever, about his grave concern that this demand was unconstitutional. With no precedent to reassure him, he nevertheless dared to consult lawyers at the ACLU and go to court even though he was always aware that challenging the government might not be easy. “Doe” says that when he met with his lawyers for the first time, he asked them, “How do I know if I file this lawsuit they won’t put me in a sack and drag me away?” When the lawyers told him that they could not predict what would happen, he replied that he was nevertheless willing to go ahead.

The lawsuit he filed in April 2004 to challenge his National Security Letter was originally entitled John Doe v. Ashcroft. As the years passed, it was renamed Doe v. Gonzales, then Doe v. Mukasey, and then Doe v. Holder, as each successive Attorney General took office. In an anonymous 2007 op-ed in the Washington Post, “Doe” described living under this prolonged regimen of silence as “stressful and surreal”:

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
where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether

-150-

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