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Court Refuses to Order Disclosure of FBI Probe in New Jersey Case

October 1, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to order full disclosure of an FBI investigation sparked by an 11-year-old New Jersey boy’s school project.

The justices, without comment, let the FBI keep parts of its file on Todd Patterson of North Haledon, N.J., secret for ″national security″ reasons.

When Patterson was an elementary school student in 1983, he began an ambitious project - to prepare a personal world encyclopedia. To that end, he wrote letters to representatives of 169 countries seeking information about their peoples and governments.

Patterson mailed his inquiries in envelopes bearing the return address of Laboratory Disposable Products, a business operated by his parents from their home.

According to government lawyers, the large amount of international mail generated by the project ″came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation through classified means.″

The agency opened an investigation, but it apparently was halted after an agent visited the Pattersons’ home and discovered the nature and purpose of Todd’s correspondence.

Patterson, now a student at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, requested copies of his personal FBI file in 1987.

The request, made under the Freedom of Information Act, was denied. Patterson was told the files could not be released because of national security reasons.

Some information from the files subsequently was released, but the rest remained classified.

Patterson sued the FBI and an unknown government agency in 1988, seeking full disclosure of the files and monetary damages.

In response to his lawsuit, the government offered to expunge his name from all FBI records. The offer was not accepted.

U.S. District Judge Alfred M. Wolin in New Jersey threw out Patterson’s suit last year after looking at the entire FBI file. He ruled that the files properly were exempted from disclosure under the FOIA.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling last January.

In the appeal acted on today, Patterson contended that his rights under the Privacy Act of 1974 were violated by the FBI investigation.

The law strictly limits government investigations into the free-speech activities of U.S. citizens.

The case is Patterson vs. FBI, 89-1731.

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