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NEW YORK -- Four Connecticut librarians who were gagged by the FBI spoke publicly for the first time today at an American Civil Liberties Union news conference about their months-long battle against Patriot Act demands for patrons' library records.
Government officials previously refused to lift the permanent gag on the librarians, citing national security concerns. However, the government abandoned its claims after Congress concluded debate and voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
"Our clients were gagged by the government at a time when Congress needed to hear their voices the most," said Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director. "This administration has repeatedly shown that it will hide behind the cloak of national security to silence its critics and cover up embarrassing facts. Every time the government invokes national security in defense of secrecy -- as they've done most recently with NSA wiretapping -- the American public should remember these four librarians."
The four librarians, members of a Connecticut consortium called the Library Connection, sought help from the ACLU after the FBI demanded patron records through a National Security Letter. This controversial Patriot Act tool allows the government to demand, without court approval, records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Anyone who receives such a demand is gagged from disclosing the mere existence of the request.
"As a librarian, I believe it is my duty and responsibility to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons," said Peter Chase, Director of the Plainville Public Library and Vice-President of Library Connection in Connecticut. "But until today, my own government prevented me from fulfilling that duty."
The ACLU and the librarians today sharply criticized the government for insisting the gag was necessary even though government officials carelessly neglected to redact the Library Connection's name in multiple legal documents. The New York Times was the first to notice and reveal "John Doe's" identity in September 2005 but the government waited until April, more than six weeks after the Patriot Act had been reauthorized by Congress, to drop its legal battle to keep the gag intact.
"Even though our identity was public due to the government's own mistakes, they still insisted we could not speak," said Barbara Bailey, Director of Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury, Connecticut, another of the librarians involved in the ACLU lawsuit. "It was difficult to sit among colleagues and listen to them discuss 'John Doe.' I had to work hard to keep my mouth shut, or I would risk jail time."
The librarians' case against the government is still ongoing. Although some revisions have been made to the Patriot Act, the ACLU said the National Security Letter provision remains unconstitutional.
The Connecticut case is one of two legal challenges brought by the ACLU. In New York, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous Internet Service Provider who received an NSL. In September 2004, Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York issued a landmark decision striking down the NSL statute and the associated gag provision. Judge Marrero will now rehear the case in light of revisions made by Congress.
For statements from each of the four librarians, as well as more information on the legal challenges, go to www.aclu.org/nsl