President, Library Connection Inc; Director, Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury, Connecticut
As a member of the Executive Board, and President of Library Connection, Inc, I have been gagged from speaking out on the “John Doe” case. This journey has truly been a rollercoaster of emotions for me.
The Executive Board took a risk bringing a case against the government. Although the three officers of the Executive Committee were comfortable with our decision to go forward, we were not able to discuss it with the entire board because of the Patriot Act gag. This made me very uncomfortable. What would have happened to the officers’ integrity and the organization’s integrity had some member libraries disagreed strongly with this decision?
Early on, the trial seemed to move fairly quickly. Within two weeks of filing with the Second Circuit, a date and location were set. Because of the gag, the government would not even allow us to attend the hearing in our case anonymously, so we watched via closed circuit television in a federal building in another city. To gain entry to the building, we needed to pass through two levels of security and sit in a locked room with a security officer; we were plaintiffs, but we were treated like criminals.
Due to some sloppy redacting on the government’s part, our identity was eventually revealed to those who took the time to plow through the court briefs. Even though our identity was public due to their own mistakes, the government still insisted that we could not speak and we had the additional burden of having to deal with the press. Fortunately for me, I was only contacted twice, and both times they received my voice mail at home and in the office. I didn’t want people to think I was rude but I could not return the calls. It was also difficult to sit among colleagues and listen to them discuss John Doe – I had to work hard to keep my mouth shut!
That first board meeting after the “cat was out of the bag” was a little tense. I kept waiting for someone to bring the case up under “additional agenda items.” Thankfully no one did, which I think is a credit to my colleagues.
After this case received national attention, I was asked to accept an award from our professional association on behalf of John Doe. As much as I really wanted to do it, I had to decline because we were still gagged by the government.
Undoubtedly, this battle – which is not over yet — has been interesting and exciting for a small town librarian. Our case helped raise awareness about the far-reaching powers of the Patriot Act, not just in Connecticut but throughout the country. We showed our fellow Americans that this was not just some theoretical political debate. The Patriot Act affects real lives and even an ordinary American like me can end up being targeted by the FBI.
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