A coalition of free speech and electronic-rights groups, taking the next step in their effort to extract more information about the government's application of the Patriot Act, have filed suit against the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

The plaintiffs, which include ABFFE, the ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the ALA's Freedom to Read Foundation, have undertaken the effort after the DoJ did not turn over much of the information being sought by the groups.

The Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, allows the seizing of records from institutions such as libraries and bookstores even in situations where criminal activity is not suspected. Over the summer, the House Judiciary Committee sent a long list of questions to the DoJ, which answered only some of the 50 questions. The unanswered questions form the basis of this suit.

The government has been claiming that national security concerns preclude the release of the requested information, but the plaintiffs argue that this is a fig leaf. "I don't see how it would jeopardize national security," said EPIC general counsel David Sobel. "What it would do is tell the public a great deal about how the authority is being used, which can help shape the public debate."

Sobel noted the information was also important because "if it established that a relatively high number of orders are directed at libraries and bookstores, that would contribute to a public atmosphere that would support amending or limiting the Patriot Act."