ACLU to Honor Connecticut Librarians & John Doe During Seattle Conference

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
June 15, 2007 12:00 am

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SEATTLE — In a ceremony tonight, the American Civil Liberties Union will present the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty awards to four Connecticut librarians and the president of a New York Internet Service Provider (ISP) who stood up against the Patriot Act and refused to violate the privacy of their patrons and clients.

Representatives of Library Connection in Connecticut — Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, George Christian and Janet Nocek — and a “John Doe” ISP received National Security Letters (NSLs) from the FBI but were gagged from revealing that the FBI had sought information from them. Instead of complying with the broad requests, which were issued without any judicial oversight, the librarians and John Doe joined the ACLU in separate legal challenges. The FBI has since dropped its gag order on the librarians, but continues to prevent the New York “John Doe” from speaking publicly.

“The ACLU’s progress in fighting back against the Patriot Act and other repressive policies since 9/11 has been fueled and inspired by the individual acts of courage of ordinary Americans,” said ACLU President Nadine Strossen. “We are proud to honor these brave individuals who stood up at a critical moment in history and truly made a difference.”

NSLs are used to compel libraries, universities, Internet providers and other organizations to disclose sensitive information about their customers and patrons. Using NSLs the FBI can find out which web sites a person has visited, which books she has borrowed from the library, what her credit score is and to whom she’s been sending e-mails. Businesses and organizations that are served with NSLs are prohibited by law from telling anyone else that the FBI demanded information from them.

Since the Patriot Act was authorized in 2001, it has relaxed restrictions on the FBI’s use of the power to issue NSLs, and the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase. While reports previously indicated a hundred-fold increase to 30,000 NSLs issued annually, an extraordinary March 2007 report from the Justice Department’s own Inspector General puts the actual number at over 143,000 NSLs issued between 2003 and 2005. The same investigation also found serious FBI abuses of regulations and numerous potential violations of the law.

The ACLU has challenged this Patriot Act statute in court in two separate cases. In the Connecticut case, several weeks after the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2006, the government gave up its legal battle over a gag order, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit effectively lifted the gag. In late June, the FBI abandoned its demand all together and the librarians can now disclose the NSL they received.

The New York case concerns an anonymous ISP that challenged the NSL statute after the FBI relied on the statute to demand some of its records. District Court Judge Victor Marrero struck down the statute in September 2004, saying that “democracy abhors undue secrecy.” In that landmark ruling, Judge Marrero held that the unlimited gag imposed by the NSL law violates free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The appeals court ruled in May 2006, that the district court should consider the constitutionality of the provision in light of recent amendments made by Congress

“These five individuals are all humble, everyday men and women who did something truly extraordinary,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “For a long time after the September 2001 attacks, the administration was able to scare many of its critics into silence. Attorney General Ashcroft even suggested that those who disagreed with the administration’s policies were aiding the enemy. So those who spoke out — especially those who spoke out despite an FBI gag order prohibiting them from doing so — displayed real courage.”

The awards will be presented by Jaffer and Strossen at a dinner ceremony Saturday evening. The ceremony comes in the middle of the 2007 ACLU Biennial Conference, during which more than 250 ACLU delegates have come to Seattle to consider and vote on policy resolutions.

Previous recipients of the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty awards include Gordon Hirabayashi and the late Fred Korematsu, who fought against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; journalist Anthony Lewis; Dolores Huerta, a champion of the rights of women, workers and immigrants; and the five Judge Advocate General (JAG) lawyers who represented the first round of defendants at Guantanamo Bay and challenged the flawed military commission process.

The member libraries of Library Connection include St. Joseph College and the public libraries of Avon, Berlin, Bloomfield, Bristol, Burlington, Canton, Cheshire, Cromwell, East Windsor, East Hartford, Enfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Manchester, Marlborough, New Britain, Newington, Plainville, Portland, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, South Windsor, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor Locks and Windsor.

For more information on NSLs and the recipients of the Medal of Liberty awards go to

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