Archive for March 2007

Every breath you take, every move you make…

March 30, 2007

The Patriot Act created a situation that politicized librarians. Yet the ALA was still a bit slow on the uptake. In January 2002, the ALA Council issued a resolution affirming its commitment to oppose “government censorship,” to protect the “lawful use of the library, its equipment and its resources,” and to oppose “the misuse of governmental power to intimidate, suppress, coerce, or compel speech.”

This was followed in January of 2003 by a resolution specifically targeting sections of the Patriot Act as “ a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users,” and calling upon Congress to provide oversight to the implementation of the act, hold hearings on the surveillance of library users, and to amend those sections of the act that threaten intellectual freedom

By this time, the US had invaded Afghanistan, and the Bush administration was pursuing a UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq – and making increasingly bellicose noises indicating that it planned military action with or without the cover of a Security Council resolution.

Moreover, the climate of censorship and secrecy had already become evident in the Pentagon’s dealings with the press during the invasion of Afghanistan. Under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon had restricted the press to an unprecedented degree from reporting from the battlefield, interviewing soldiers, and generally doing its job of war reporting. Indeed, the Associated Press Washington bureau chief noted at the time that reporters had greater access to the Taliban and Northern Alliance than to the Americans.

Against this backdrop, the FBI had been visiting libraries around the country requesting information about patrons and their library use. In California alone, an anonymous Sacramento Bee survey found, the FBI had visited 16 libraries requesting patron information. These facts came to light just days after then Attorney General John Ashcroft had mocked librarians’ concerns about invasion of privacy and intellectual freedom by claiming that “the number of times Section 215 has been used to date is zero.”


“Resolution Reaffirming the Principles of Intellectual Freedom in the Aftermath of Terrorist Attacks,” American Library Association, January 23, 2002. Online (March 29, 2007) Available

“Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users,” American Library Association, January 29, 2003. Online (March 29, 2007) Available

“2003 Invasion of Iraq,” Wikipedia. Online (March 29, 2003) Available

Neil Hickey, “Access Denied,” Columbia Journalism Review, January / February, 2002. pp. 26-31.

“Ashcroft Mocks Librarians in Patriot Act Defense,” American Libraries, November, 2003, pp. 10-12.


The noose tightens

March 27, 2007

Within weeks of the 9-11 attacks, Congress was approving legislation that would permit federal judges to permit sweeping warrants for domestic wiretapping. Attorney General John Ashcroft was calling for anti-terrorism legislation to expand the surveillance powers of law enforcement, and New York Attorney General Eliot Spizter was calling for expanded authority to use wiretaps.

In late September, 2001, A number of civil libertarians and librarians issued a “Library Community Statement on Freedom of Speech and Access to Information,” which spoke in vague platitudes about the responsibility to balance the right to information access and privacy rights with cooperation with law enforcement, and supporting “our Nation’s (sic) leaders” in protecting “the freedoms that are the foundation of our democracy.”

On October 26, 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed, and included provisions such as Section 215, which gave the FBI the authority to order anyone to turn over “any tangible things” to them as part of “an authorized investigation…to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Section 215 would be the portion of the act that most seriously affected libraries, because it empowered the FBI to gain access to the borrowing records and Internet use records of patrons without their knowledge, and without probable cause.


Lizette Alvarez, “After the Attacks: Intelligence. Spying on Terrorists and Thwarting Them Gains New Urgency,” New York Times, September 14, 2001, Pg. A. 17

William Glaberson, “Government Has Power to Curb Some Freedoms,” New York Times, September 19, 2001. pg. B.7

H.R. 3162 USA Patriot Act, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Online (March 27, 2007) Available

“Section 215 FAQ,” ACLU website, 10/24/2002, Online (March 26, 2007) Available

“The USA Patriot Act in the Library,” American Library Association, Intellectual Freedome Issues. Online (March 27, 2007) Available

Early days

March 26, 2007

One of the classic news items from the early days of the so-called ‘war on terror’ concerned the government’s desire to pull down information from federal websites that was deemed sensitive. An independent watchdog group, OMB Watch, reported that the EPA had removed public information relating to management plans for chemical disasters, and the FAA had removed information on its enforcement procedures.

Source: Norman Oder, “Feds Start to Pull Net Information,” Library Journal, Nov. 15, 2001, p. 16.

Opening thoughts:

March 24, 2007

The focus of my research for this project is the issue intellectual freedom, and the threats to freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry that have arisen in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Specifically, I’m interested in the ways that these phenomena have affected American libraries.

In some cases, the threats to intellectual freedom have involved outright censorship – i.e. the removal of materials from government websites, attempts to re-classify previously unclassified or declassified materials. In other cases, the threats are more subtle, involving self-censorship, and the avoidance of topics of inquiry that might trigger unwelcome and unwarranted scrutiny by law enforcement or intelligence services.

I’m going to begin, therefore, by attempting to track instances of censorship, self-censorship, surveillance, stifling of debate and inquiry, and general repression of intellectual freedom over the past several years. I will rely mainly on press reports, investigative journalism pieces, scholarly analyses, as well as opinion pieces and other interventions by civil libertarians and concerned activists.

Me and my blog

March 22, 2007

I am setting this blog up initially as a project for a graduate seminar in Librarianship and Human Rights. Over the next several weeks, therefore, the posts will concern the seminar project only. After that, the direction the blog takes will depend upon where my professional and intellectual interests lead me.