Connecticut librarians bitterly decry gag order in Patriot Act case

Four librarians from Connecticut spoke out for the first time after being subjected to a months-long gag order when the FBI demanded records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.


Four otherwise mild-mannered librarians from Connecticut spoke out bitterly for the first time Tuesday after being subjected to a months-long gag order when the FBI demanded records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.

U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled last year that the gag order should be lifted, saying it unfairly prevented the librarians from participating in a debate over how the Patriot Act should be rewritten. But it wasn”t until April that prosecutors dropped an appeal of that order.

The librarians, at a press conference organized by the American Civil Liberties Union — which represented them — did little to hide their displeasure at being told by the government to keep quiet.

“I am incensed that the government uses provisions of the Patriot Act to justify unrestrained and secret access to the records of libraries,” said George Christian of Windsor, Conn., executive director of the Library Connection Inc., a consortium of libraries in the central part of the state.

“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.”

Christian noted with irony that the gag order was lifted only after Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

“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,” he said.

Peter Chase, the vice president of Library Connection Inc. and director of the Plainville Public Library, said as a librarian he has a duty “to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons. But until today, my own government prevented me from fulfilling that duty.”

“The government was telling Congress that it didn”t use the Patriot Act against libraries and that no one”s rights had been violated,” he said. “I felt that I just could not be part of this fraud being foisted on our nation. We had to defend our patrons and ourselves, and so … we filed a lawsuit challenging the government”s power to demand these records without a court order.”

The other two librarians at the center of the dispute were Janet Nocek, director of the Portland Library and Library Connection Inc. secretary; and Barbara Bailey, president of Library Connection Inc. and director of the Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury.

The librarians, although now free to speak, are continuing to fight the FBI”s request for information about their patrons, said Ann Beeson, ACLU”s associate legal director. She also noted that some of the librarians” identities were actually made public last year when government documents about the case failed to redact their names.

The Patriot Act, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allows expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and secret proceedings in immigration cases. It also removed a requirement that any records sought in a terrorism investigation be those of someone under suspicion. Now, anyone”s records can be obtained if the FBI considers them relevant to a terrorism or spying investigation.

Prosecutors argued that secrecy about demands for records is necessary to avoid alerting suspects and jeopardizing investigations. They contended the gag order prevented only the releaseg of librarians” identities, not their ability to speak about the Patriot Act.

The ACLU also contends the amended Patriot Act still allows the FBI to gag recipients of the national security letters.

Author: Frank Eltman

News Service: AP

URL: http://www.boston.com/news/local/connecticut/articles/2006/05/30/conn_librarians_bitterly_decry_gag_order_in_patriot_act_case/