TUCoPS :: Privacy :: fbi_mail.txt

FBI opens teenager's mail for "reasons of national security"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              July 26, 1989


      Attorneys for Todd Patterson today filed a brief in the
United States Court of Appeals in Philadelphia urging the appeals
court to reinstate the claims of the North Haledon teenager
against the Federal Bureau of Investigation for tampering with
his mail to foreign governments.
      The case was dismissed in February by United States
District Judge Alfred Wolin after he had reviewed secret FBI
documents which he said satisfied him that the FBI had not
violated the teenager's rights by monitoring his communications
and establishing name-indexed files in Newark, New York, and
      The appeals brief, filed on behalf of the American Civil
Liberties Union by Professor Frank Askin and the Rutgers Law
School Constitutional Litigation Clinic, objected strenuously to
the use of secret evidence to decide the case.  After quoting
from Franz Kafka's classic novel of bureaucratic tyranny, "The
Trial," the brief asserted: "Such Kafkaesque adjudication has no
place in our adversarial system of justice which guarantees due
process of law."
      The appeals brief challenges the constitutional authority
of government agencies both to routinely intercept Americans'
mail to foreign governments and to maintain permanent records on
such correspondents once they are determined to be innocent
information seekers.
      Todd began his international correspondence as a precocious
11-year old in order to prepare his own personal world
encyclopedia.  Soon thereafter an FBI agent visited the house.  
When he inquired about the possible existence of a permanent file
at the age of 15, Todd was informed by the FBI that his records
were classified for reasons of national security.
      Todd's primary claim arises under the federal Privacy 
Act, which proscribes government monitoring of citizen activity
protected by the First Amendment of the United States
Constitution.  The appeals brief summarizes Todd's claims as
      "The Privacy Act, adopted in the post-Watergate era,
implements the spirit of the First Amendment and judicial
decisions restricting governmental investigations of protected
speech and expression by forbidding federal agencies, including
the FBI, from either colecting or maintaining information on
citizens' exercise of First Amendment rights unless clearly
needed to effectuate law-enforcement needs.  Section (e)(7) of
the Privacy Act, which is at the heart of this litigation, was
directed in large part at the practice, common in the J. Edgar
Hoover era, of FBI spying on government opponents and critics and
persons suspected of having unorthodox political views.
      "Even if the government can justify monitoring mail between
United States citizens and allegedly hostile foreign governments,
there is no apparent justification under the Privacy Act for
maintaining name-indexed files on such correspondents once it is
determined that the communications were entirely innocent.
      "Furthermore, the District Court assumed without any
evidence that it is indeed necessary for the purpose of national
security to routinely monitor such foreign correspondence despite
the obvious chilling effect it has on protected communication."

Professor Frank Askin               or   Lorraine E. Stanley,
Rutgers Law School                  Elizabeth J. Miller, Esq.
Constitutional Litigation Clinic         ACLU-NJ
(201) 648-5687                      (201) 642-2086

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