Archive for April 2007

Open access – standing order

April 24, 2007

This post brings to a (temporary) close my examination of some of the issues surrounding intellectual freedom and libraries, with special attention to the USA Patriot Act. I invite you to peruse the postings, follow the links, and review the sources that I have compiled over this past month.

Although the main focus of this blog has been the Patriot Act and its affect on intellectual freedom in libraries, it also encompasses issues of intellectual freedom that are much broader. Questions of freedom of expression, invasion of privacy, and due process – in other words, the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution – are necessarily embedded in all aspects of civil society. And libraries are among the bedrock institutions of civil society.

To close, therefore, I can think of no better quotation than that of James Madison, the ‘father of the Constitution,’ and fourth president of the United States:

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”


Joan C. Durrance, Karen Pettigrew, Michael Jourdan, Karen Scheuerer. “Libraries and Civil Society,” in Libraries: The Cornerstone of Democracy, Nancy Kranich, Chicago: American Library Association, 2001. Online. Available

James Madison to W.T. Barry. Writings 9:103-9. The Founders’ Constitution, Epilogue: Securing the Republic. Online (April 23, 2007) Available


A series of tubes…

April 23, 2007

Threats to intellectual freedom and civil liberties, of course, are not confined solely to the machinations of what seems to have become a politicized and out-of-control Justice Department. Members of Congress, pursuing their various political and economic agendas, are also piling on, with legislation aimed at policing the Internet in the name of defending minors against salacious material and untoward strangers.

While the latter justification is ostensibly a worthy one, one must question the motivations of those politicians who would put the burden of overseeing the Internet activities of minors on librarians, and on adult patrons of libraries. This, of course, is to say nothing of the constitutional implications of having the government set standards for what library patrons may or may not access on the Internet in public libraries.

Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska plans to introduce a bill that would require libraries receiving federal e-rate funding to block “social networking” websites from underage users – unless they are under adult supervision, and accessed for “an education al purpose.” Yes, this is the same Senator Stevens who made a fool of himself on the Senate floor last year with his rambling and ill-informed remarks about net neutrality.

This proposed legislation comes on the heels of similar bills being drafted in Illinois, Georgia, and North Carolina, that would restrict access to sites like MySpace and Facebook to children and teens.


The problem with these laws is that they are vague (the definition of “social networking” being too broad), and they place an undue burden for supervising the activities of minors on libraries. Moreover, as Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom noted, the bills don’t address the need for educating youth in the safe use of the Internet. Rather, she said, they will “drive youth on the Internet underground, where they will be far more vulnerable to predators.”




“Senator Revises Web Monitoring Bill,” American Libraries, April 20, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


“Three States and Feds Pursue Social Networking Controls,” American Libraries, February 16, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


Liz Ruskin “Internet ‘Tubes’ Speech Turns Spotlight, Ridicule onto Sen. Stevens,” McClatchy Newspapers, July 15, 2006. New Center. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


“A series of Tubes,” The Daily Show with John Stuart, July 12, 2006. YouTube, March 20, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available

Just when you thought it was safe…

April 16, 2007

Fears about national security letters, and abuse of governmental power have now seemingly come to fruition. On the heels of a Justice Department audit revealing that the FBI has routinely been violating both the spirit and the letter of the law regarding national security letters, the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell has called for a sweeping expansion of the government’s authority to eavesdrop, search, break into homes and make copies of computer hard drives, all with little or no judicial review.

This is an audacious power grab, at a time when the Bush administration is increasingly on the ropes – both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. As Illinois Senator Richard Durbin remarked, the audit “confirms the American people’s worst fears about the Patriot Act. It appears that the administration has used these powers without even the most basic regard for privacy of innocent Americans.”

George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection, the Connecticut library consortium that successfully challenged a national security letter request in 2005-2006, testified before Congress on April 11, 2007. He noted, however, that the situation with the supposedly reformed Patriot Act is just as danger as to democratic freedoms as it was originally:

“It is widely believed that some civil liberties were restored in the revised PATRIOT Act, but they were not. Language in the revised law appears to protect the privacy of library records, but a loophole inserted into the wording allows the FBI to use a national security letter to obtain library records anyway. The revision states that a library functioning in a “traditional role” is not subject to an NSL UNLESS it is providing “electronic communication services,” which the law defines as “any service that provides to users thereof the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications.” Thus, any library providing Internet service can still be served with an NSL – that is essentially every library in the United States today. Robert Mueller, FBI Director, in a written response to a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry, even stated that new language “did not actually change the law.”

The ACLU has called for Congress to “reject this new attempt to erode the 4th Amendment and its protections.”

With respect to the Justice Department audit showing FBI misuse of national security letters, ALA President Leslie Burger issued an official statement last month saying: “The recent findings by the Inspector General demonstrate that not only was the FBI misleading citizens then, it’s been misleading them all along”. The ALA has apparently not yet weighed in on National Intelligence Director McConnell’s proposed expansion of the government’s search and surveillance powers. Waive to the camera.


“FBI Misused Patriot Act, Justice Department Audit Says,” American Libraries, March 9, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available

“National Security Letters Misused,” Don Wood, Library 2.0 blog. March 12, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available

“Librarian Who Challenged NSLs Urges Congress to Fix Patriot Act.” ACLU website, April 11, 2007. Online. (April 14, 2007) Available

“McConnell seeks to boost U.S. spy powers,” Katherine Shrader, AP. Yahoo News, April 13, 2007. Online (April 14, 2007) Available

“ACLU: Congress Must Reject Administration’s Call for FISA’s ‘Modernization’,” ACLU website, April 13, 2007. Online. (April 14, 2007) Available

This is what democracy looks like.

April 15, 2007

Even though the Bush administration and the Justice Department may have gone ‘through the looking-glass,’ librarians clearly had not. Even though the first steps were uncertain, librarians had clearly stepped up and done their civic duty to speak out against measures that strike at the heart of the functioning of a democratic society – intellectual freedom, and the right to be secure from unwarranted searches or surveillance.

As early as January of 2003, the ALA had passed a resolution calling on Congress to hold hearings on the surveillance of library patrons, and to amend sections of the Patriot Act that threaten intellectual freedom. The resolution pointed to sections of the Patriot Act that it called “a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.”

This represented part of an ongoing campaign, as libraries all over the country either specifically endorsed the ALA resolution, or implemented resolutions of their own. By 2004, the California Library Association had launched a joint campaign with the ACLU to support rescinding portions of the Patriot Act, like Section 215, and amending the act to limit search warrants and surveillance.


“Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users,” American Library Association, January 29, 2003. Online (February 28, 2007) Available

“ACLU and California Library Association Launch Anti–Patriot Act Campaign,” American Libraries Online, January 23, 2004. Online (February 28, 2007) Available

The Library Connection case

April 15, 2007

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

What made the case of the Connecticut librarians of The Library Connection so compelling was that is was taking place against the backdrop of the congressional debates over re-authorization of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act.

Here was a group of librarians, served with a National Security Letter, who took a stand based on the questionable constitutionality of the provisions of the Patriot Act (i.e., lack of judicial review) and on their professional ethics, as expressed in the Library Bill of Rights. They were standing up for patrons’ rights to privacy, and intellectual freedom.

In the summer of 2005, George Christian, the executive director of The Library Connection, received a request directing the consortium to provide all ”subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity related to” a specific IP address for a 45-minute period on February 15, 2005. Because of the gag rule covering such national security letter requests, however, Mr. Christian, and the other officials of the consortium were prohibited from discussing the matter with anyone. In fact, they were unsure whether or not they could even discuss it with the board of directors, or with counsel.

Because of being put in this impossible situation, and because of the constitutional and ethical issues involved, they decided to fight the request, and sought legal representation by the ACLU. Their legal challenge, however, did not mean that they were free to discuss the case, and a US Circuit Court ruled that they must abide by the gag order while the government made its arguments.

The irony of this case, however, is that while the government lawyers were arguing against allowing the librarians (known collectively as John Doe) from speaking about the case, the government’s own sloppy record keeping had actually allowed the identity of The Library Connection to be revealed publicly in court documents.

Ultimately, the FBI dropped its gag order, but this was in early 2006 – after the Patriot Act had already been re-authorized by Congress. The FBI heaped scorn on the idea that they purposely prevented the librarians from commenting so that they could not participate in the debate about the act’s renewal. But this seems dubious, especially in light of the fact that the FBI did not aggressively pursue the investigation that it claimed information was needed for.

The renewed Patriot Act was modified to allow recipients of national security letters to consult attorneys, but the most egregious provisions under Section 215 still apply. George Christian noted at the end of this affair, that if the government’s demand had been in the form of a court-sanctioned subpoena or warrant, the consortium would ”have been as cooperative as possible.” But because the FBI used a national security letter, which requires no judicial review, they felt they had to question its constitutionality.


“A Court Fight to Keep a Secret That’s Long Been Revealed,” Alison Leigh Cowan. New York Times. November 18, 2005. p. B.1

“Librarian Is Still John Doe, Despite Patriot Act Revision,” Alison Leigh Cowan. New York Times: March 21, 2006. p. B.3

“Librarians Win As U.S. Relents On Secrecy Law,” Anahad O’Connor. New York Times. April 13, 2006. p. B.1

“Four Librarians Finally Break Silence in Records Case,” Alison Leigh Cowan. New York Times. May 31, 2006. p. B.3

“U.S. Ends a Yearlong Effort to Obtain Library Records Amid Secrecy in Connecticut,” Alison Leigh Cowan. New York Times .June 27, 2006. p. B.6

Don’t you let nobody turn you round…

April 15, 2007

The groundbreaking resistance to the Patriot Act to date concerns four librarians at the Library Connection, a Connecticut library consortium, who challenged the constitutionality of a National Security Letter presented by the FBI demanding patron records at a Connecticut public library. With the assistance of the ACLU, the librarians ultimately prevailed when a gag order on discussing the case was lifted, and the FBI abandoned its attempt to enforce the National Security Letter. The Patriot Act, however, was re-authorized by Congress in 2006, and Section 215 remains in place, with some changes to the standards of its implementation.


Barton Gellman, “The FBI’s Secret Scrutiny,”, November 6, 2005. Online (February 28, 2007) Available

Shaun Waterman, “National-Security Letter to Library Group Dropped,” The Washington Times, June 27, 2006. Online (February 28, 2007) Available

Empty, try another…

April 11, 2007

Along with the difficulties posed by the Patriot Act, during the first two years, it was also noted that most libraries were not actively disseminating information about the war on Iraq, or the Middle East in general. In May, 2003 – two months into the US-led attack on Iraq, Library Journal reported that a review of the homepages of several major urban public libraries and university libraries revealed that most did not have significant web resources or bibliographic materials devoted to the war, or the historical and diplomatic background to the conflict.

Exceptions among major urban public libraries were the Queens Borough (NY) Public Library, Denver Public Library, King County (Washington) Public Library, Multnomah County Public Library (Oregon), and the Minneapolis Public Library. Interestingly, the New York Public Library did have considerable materials, but these were apparently buried under a generic “search the Internet” rubric. The report also noted that the library homepages of the major Ivy League universities offered no immediately visible links.


Michael Rogers, “For Libraries, It’s Mostly Quiet on the Middle East Info Front,” Library Journal, May 1, 2003, pp. 16-17.