onnecticut librarians spoke about their fight to stop the FBI from
gaining access to patrons' library records at a news conference
yesterday organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
and in a subsequent interview with RAW STORY.
The Librarians, members of
Library Connection, a not-for profit cooperative organization
for resource sharing across 26 Connecticut library branches sharing
a centralized computer, were served with a National Security Letter
(NSL) in August of last year as part of the FBI's attempt to attain
access to patron's records.
The NSL is a little known statute in the Patriot
Act that permits law enforcement to obtain records of people not
suspected of any wrongdoing and without a court order. As part of
the NSL, those served with
the document are gagged and prohibited from disclosing that they
have even been served.
The foursome of Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase,
George Christian, and Jan Nocek were automatically gagged from
disclosing that they had received the letter, the contents of the
letter, and even from discussions surrounding the Patriot Act.
The librarians, via the national and Connecticut
branches of the ACLU, filed suit challenging the Patriot Act on
first amendment grounds.
"People ask about private and confidential things
in the library setting… like about their health, their family issues
and related books they take out … these are confidential and we did
this to protect our patrons from authorized snooping," said
Chase, Vice President of Library Connection."
On September 9 of last year, a federal judge
lifted the gag order and rejected the government's argument that
identifying the plaintiff would pose a threat to national security.
Yet the government continued to appeal the case
throughout the reauthorization debate, passionately arguing that not
a single incident of civil liberties violations by the Patriot Act
had occurred. By continuing the appeal, the government effectively
silenced any evidence to counter their claims.
"This all happened during the reauthorization
debate and the government was saying no one's rights were being
violated," said George Christian, staff liaison for Library
Connection and one of the plaintiffs in the case.
As the debate over the reauthorization of the
Patriot Act heated up, the librarians and others gagged by the NSL
had to watch in silence, intimately aware of dangers they believed
were not being exposed.
"We could not speak to Congress until after the
renewal of the Patriot Act," Said Barbara Bailey, President of
Library Connection and one of four plaintiffs in the case.
Although the ACLU, representing the librarians,
filed the case on August 9 of last year, US Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales decried any civil liberties violations in a
Washington Post op-ed in December, stating that "There have been
no verified civil liberties abuses in the four years of the
[Patriot] act's existence."
The suit names Alberto Gonzales, Robert Mueller,
and an un-named FBI official as the defendants in the case. The
plaintiffs are collectively referred to in all court filings as
simply John Doe.
"My testimony was informed not only by the
successes of the act but also by my personal meetings with
representatives from groups such as the ACLU and the American
Library Association," wrote Gonzales in his Washington Post piece.
During the reauthorization discussion, I asked that certain
provisions be clarified to ensure the protection of civil liberties,
and Congress responded."
After the Patriot Act was reauthorized in March
of this year, the government stopped its appeals. Last Wednesday,
the Connecticut librarians were finally allowed to say that they
were the John Doe in the case, but they are still prohibited from
discussing the case or the NSL.
"There are other people who have been served with
these letters. We hope by our testimony that more people are aware
of this and people are able to speak out," said Jan Nocek, Secretary
for Library Connection and one of the four plaintiffs in the case.
"Our clients were gagged by the government at a
time when Congress needed to hear their voices the most," said Ann
Beeson, ACLU's lead attorney in the case. "This administration has