Executive Director, Library Connection, Inc.
I am relieved that a federal court has at long last lifted a Patriot Act gag order and allowed me to acknowledge that I am the recipient of a National Security Letter (NSL) on behalf of my organization, Library Connection, Inc.
As a citizen, I was shocked by the restraints the gag order imposed upon me. I am incensed that the government uses provisions of the Patriot Act to justify unrestrained and secret access to the records of libraries. Free public libraries exist in this country to promote democracy by allowing the public to inform itself on the issues of the day. The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling. It can’t help but be intimidating, and it is not something I believe the government should be allowed to do.
The entire Patriot Act was up for renewal last winter, and I very much wanted to focus public attention and the attention of Congress on my concerns. There was a great deal of what I felt to be misinformation bandied about in Congress and the press, and as the recipient of a National Security Letter I felt I had an important perspective to offer.
Since the Justice Department gave nor other reason for its sudden decision to stop opposing my appeal of the gag order, I can only conclude that the intent of the delay was to keep me from speaking to Congress while the renewal of the Patriot Act was being debated. I am embarrassed that my government would stoop to tactics like this to stifle free and open debate. The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the Fire Department only after a building has burned to the ground.
Being gagged has been an extremely frustrating experience. It has impacted my personal and professional relationships by placing me in uncomfortable circumstances where I couldn’t be completely open and honest. Beyond that, it has diminished and sullied the citizenship of which I am so proud.
Professionally, I found the gag order to be very compromising. My job is to manage a corporation owned and entirely funded by its participating member libraries. To operate successfully, I need to maintain their confidence and trust. Although I had the full cooperation of the executive committee of the board of directors, neither I nor the committee members could reveal to the rest of the board or to the membership at large that we had been served with an NSL without risking prosecution. We could not reveal that we were questioning compliance with the NSL. Most importantly, we could not reveal that we were committing the corporation to a lawsuit against the Attorney General of the United States. These were all issues that should have been discussed and voted on by the full board before making such momentous decisions.
Eventually, through the government’s ineptitude in redacting its own court filings, the fact of the NSL and of the ACLU lawsuit protesting it and the associated gag orders became widely publicized. In a way, this made things even more awkward. Because the circumstances were always the unmentioned elephant in the room, I worried that another unasked question could be whether I was doing anything else without the disclosures and oversight the board and the membership expected and were entitled to. As I pride myself on openness and integrity, this was a real burden. The burden on me has finally been lifted, but for Americans who were seeking an honest debate in Congress, this is too little, too late.
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