Saturday, October 06, 2007

remember to thank your librarian

Librarians were the first professional association to openly resist the Patriot Act. Don't forget that. In Libraries and National Security: An Historical Review, Joan Starr reviews the history of government intrusion against privacy:
"... Perhaps because of the new law’s complexity, a full response by the profession has been evolutionary in nature. By April 2002, the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) had conducted extensive evaluation and assessment of the implications of the USA PATRIOT Act and published The USA Patriot Act in the Library: Analysis of the USA Patriot Act Related to Libraries (American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF], 2002). This document provided a straightforward explanation of the relevant sections of the Act without making any recommendations as to how librarians should respond if faced with an investigation. Two months later, in June, the ALA Council approved Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 2002), stating,
"In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf."

By January of 2003, the ALA codified a three–fold response to the Act in its Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users. First, the resolution urged education about how to comply with the Act and also about the inherent dangers to intellectual freedom. It further urged that libraries "adopt and implement patron privacy and record retention policies" [41] to collect only information that is necessary for the library’s work. Second, the resolution bound the ALA to work with other like–minded organizations "to protect the rights of inquiry and free expression" [42]. Third, it commited the ALA (2003a) "to obtain and publicize information about the surveillance of libraries and library users by law enforcement agencies."

In fulfillment of these resolutions, the ALA has initiated a number of actions. For library workers and managers, the ALA created a support system focused on challenges that might arise during day–to–day library operations. On its Web site, ALA provides extensive educational materials, both for use in familiarizing staff members and communities about the issues, as well as in developing local policies for record retention and search warrant response, including What to Do If Served with a Search Warrant under USA Patriot Act (OIF, 2004). In addition, the OIF offers legal assistance through the Freedom to Read Foundation to any library served with a warrant and does not have an attorney.

In terms of establishing coalitions, the ALA collaborated with the American Booksellers Association and the PEN American Center to form the Campaign for Reader Privacy, initiating a nationwide campaign to gather signatures in support of legislation to amend Section 215 ("Million Signatures Sought," 2004). Lastly, in an effort to publicize the surveillance that has occurred, the ALA submitted a FOIA request for the number and content of subpoenas issued under Section 215 [43]. When the Justice Department failed to respond, the ALA participated in another collaborative effort — a joint lawsuit with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and American Civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Sommer, 2002, Request Denied section). On 20 May 2003, the House Judiciary Committee obtained information from the Justice Department that "FBI agents have contacted about 50 libraries as part of investigations" (Oder, 2003b).

ALA President Carla Hayden publicly challenged the Justice Department to make available the records sought in the FOIA request. Attorney General John Ashcroft mocked the request, adding offensive remarks deriding the significance of the ALA’s concerns (Goldberg and Foote, 2003). Hayden’s reply was swift and clear, "We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General should be openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution" (ALA, 2003a). On September 18, Ashcroft agreed to declassify the report on library visits, but he claimed that the FBI had not used Section 215 powers in any of the contacts. Critics noted that this was an indication that the Justice Department could restore pre–USA PATRIOT Act standards without hampering intelligence efforts (Lichtblau, 2003; Oder, 2003a). ..."


Further reading:

FBI's reading list worries librarians

The ALA's 'Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights' and 'Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights'

Librarians do have a sense of humor, as this librarian's alternative take on the universe suggests: Underground Librarians

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