Every breath you take, every move you make…

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.”

Sources:

“Resolution Reaffirming the Principles of Intellectual Freedom in the Aftermath of Terrorist Attacks,” American Library Association, January 23, 2002. Online (March 29, 2007) Available http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/ifresolutions/reaffirmifprinciples.pdf

“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 http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/ifresolutions/usapatriotactresolution.pdf

“2003 Invasion of Iraq,” Wikipedia. Online (March 29, 2003) Available http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_invasion_of_Iraq

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.

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