Secretary, Library Connection Inc.; Library Director, Portland Library in Portland, Connecticut
Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience. This is what happened to me and the Executive Board of Library Connection when the FBI came to Connecticut with a National Security Letter.
Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers. The gag was permanent and absolute.
In addition to the difficulties of having been prohibited from sharing my experience with family, friends or colleagues, I had to refrain from talking to my superior or to any board members of the library that I direct. This lack of disclosure, which was forced on me by my government, made me feel dishonest.
My involvement in this case has exposed me to an element of fear, with the realization that there are secretive doings by our government that abridge the rights of its citizens. Until this point, I never thought about what it would be like to have the right to speak freely taken away. Being personally gagged put a weight on me that I expected would be a lifelong companion. I could talk about these upsetting feelings only with academic detachment. I was in an unreal state in which I could not relate my emotional experience to others.
The opportunity to share our experiences with legislators in Congress was unconstitutionally denied. We were not allowed to testify about our experiences to Congress while they debated whether the Patriot Act should be renewed or modified. I think our human story would have exposed the American public to just how far-reaching this law is. Reading or talking about possible denial of rights is not as compelling as hearing from another citizen with firsthand experience.
The government’s gag also kept us from having a free discourse with our elected officials when they needed it most. I fear that while the United States is fighting to make another country more democratic, we are neglecting to uphold our democratic principles here at home.
There are other recipients of NSLs who have been permanently denied their constitutional rights and I hope that our testimony on the effects of the gag will eventually bring about a change in the law that would provide for lifting those gags at appointed times.
I am speaking out now because the public has the right to hear about our experiences. Let the American people decide whether a shroud of secrecy has descended upon all of us that might affect not just a few librarians, but any ordinary “John Doe.”
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