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Justice document: Patriot Act provision never used

Attorney General John Ashcroft
Attorney General John Ashcroft

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There have been no requests by law enforcement officials for any businesses to hand over their records for terrorism investigations, according to a new Justice Department document obtained by CNN.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has drawn sharp criticism from civil libertarians, allows FBI counterterrorism agents to obtain secret court orders requiring any private business -- including libraries and hospitals -- to produce business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.

The law can require businesses to hand over to authorities "any tangible things," including books, records, papers, documents, and other items.

According to the document obtained by CNN, "the number of times Section 215 has been used to date is zero."

Information about Section 215 requests is classified, but earlier Wednesday Attorney General John Ashcroft said he would reveal details.

The Patriot Act was passed to battle terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

When the American Library Association's request under the Freedom of Information Act for the Justice Department to reveal details about use of Section 215 was rejected early this year, the group went to court.

With backing from the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawsuit was filed in Washington July 30 to compel the government to disclose the information.

The ACLU and civil libertarians have repeatedly expressed fears that government agents were encroaching on personal privacy.

The ACLU suit charges Section 215 violates "constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the rights to freedom of speech and association."

In speeches this week, Ashcroft has scoffed at the suggestion that FBI agents are skulking about libraries trying to find out what citizens are reading.

"According to these breathless reports and baseless hysteria, some have convinced the American Library Association that under the bipartisan Patriot Act, the FBI is not fighting terrorism. Instead agents are checking how far you have gotten on the latest Tom Clancy novel," Ashcroft said mocking critics.

Earlier Wednesday, Ashcroft telephoned the library association president Carla Hayden to inform her that he had decided to declassify the Section 215 information. Ashcroft did not say when he would release the information.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


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