Wednesday, October 19, 2005



Librarian (2004)

Well, I thought I'd have more time to write today, but responsibilities and work keeps intruSSSSSSSSH!!!

[Lowered voice] Oh, sorry. I'll keep it down.

I know the librarian in today's image is a bit old school -- glasses and hair bun and all. But look how the world opens up all around her. And that's what books do -- they open our minds to the intricacies and wonders -- and, yes, sometimes -- the horrors of the world.

She (or he, as the case may be) doesn't deserve the schoolmarm rep. Frankly, in the BushCo reign of reduced civil liberties, our librarians are on the front lines. They don't just loan us books; they are nothing less than freedom fighters.

Here is a statement given by the president of the American Library Association to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April of 2005:

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (“USA PATRIOT Act”) became law on October 26, 2001.

The USA PATRIOT Act amended over 15 federal statutes, including the laws governing criminal procedure, computer fraud and abuse, foreign intelligence, wiretapping, immigration, and the laws governing the privacy of student records. These amendments expanded the authority of the FBI and law enforcement to gain access to business records, medical records, educational records and library records, including stored electronic data and communications. It also expanded the laws governing wiretaps and “trap and trace” phone devices to Internet and electronic communications. These enhanced surveillance procedures pose the greatest challenge to privacy and confidentiality in the library.

“The American Library Association (ALA) opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.” — from ALA's Resolution on the USA PATRIOT Act (See also Resolution Reaffirming the Principles of Intellectual Freedom in the Aftermath of Terrorist Attacks .)

Isn't free inquiry essential to a working democracy? Well, apparently, under the current regime, that question is as passé as daring to suggest that torture is inherently immoral. From The Free Expression Policy Project -- "The Impact of the USA PATRIOT ACT on Free Expression" by Nancy Kranich:

Hours after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, people rushed to libraries to read about the Taliban, Islam, Afghanistan and terrorism. Americans sought background materials to foster understanding and cope with this horrific event. They turned to a place with reliable answers -- to a trustworthy public space where they are free to inquire, and where their privacy is respected.

Since 9-11, libraries remain more important than ever to ensuring the right of every individual to hold and express opinions and to seek and receive information, the essence of a thriving democracy. But just as the public is exercising its right to receive information and ideas -- a necessary aspect of free expression -- in order to understand the events of the day, government is threatening these very liberties, claiming it must do so in the name of national security.


These enhanced surveillance powers license law enforcement officials to peer into Americans' most private reading, research, and communications. Several of the Act's hastily passed provisions not only violate the privacy and confidentiality rights of those using public libraries and bookstores, but sweep aside constitutional checks and balances by authorizing intelligence agencies (which are within the executive branch of government) to gather information in situations that may be completely unconnected to a potential criminal proceeding (which is part of the judicial branch of government). The constitutional requirement of search warrants, to be issued by judges, is one such check on unbridled executive power. In addition to the dangers to democracy from such unbridled executive power, it is not clear that these enhanced investigative capabilities will make us safer, for under the new provisions, far more information is going to the same intelligence agencies that were failing to manage the ocean of information they collected prior to September 11.

We do not know how the USA PATRIOT Act and related measures have been applied in libraries, bookstores, and other venues because the gag order bars individuals from making that information public. The executive branch has refused to answer inquiries from members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and from civil liberties groups under the Freedom of Information Act, regarding the incidence of surveillance activities, except an admission of snooping in libraries by FBI agents.

Officially, librarians are not allowed to comment on FBI visits to examine library users' Internet surfing and book-borrowing habits. Unofficially, though, some details have surfaced. Two nationwide surveys conducted at the University of Illinois after September 11 found that more than 200 out of 1,500 libraries surveyed had turned over information to law enforcement officials. A March 2003 article in the Hartford Courant revealed that librarians in Fairfield and Hartford, Connecticut, were visited by the FBI, but only one case involved a search warrant. And an FWWeekly article on April 17, 2003, cited a case in New Mexico where a former public defender was arrested by federal agents and interrogated for five hours after using a computer at a Santa Fe academic library, apparently as a result of a chat room statement that President Bush was out of control. It is unclear whether any of these incidents involved secret search warrants as authorized under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Remember -- you aren't just reading for one anymore...

Say, Clem -- what's the bounty we get fer every one of them "reader" hides?
[Image seen at The Emmaus Theory]

Are you keeping a scorecard at home? Let's review:

Clear Skies = Pollute at Will
Healthy Forests = Clearcut with Extreme Prejudice
PATRIOT ACT = The Books You Read Turn Your Life into an Open Book.

And the beat to make minds a little less inquiring goes on because -- as we can see, just last month, from The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus Blog -- some librarians strongly believe the gag order should be unknotted:

The American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union joined forces today to urge U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to allow a Connecticut library organization that received an order under the USA Patriot Act to publicly talk about the experience. Under the order, called a national-security letter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanded that the Connecticut library group turn over the records of certain patrons. The order barred the group from telling anyone it had received the letter.

A federal judge in Connecticut ruled earlier this month that this gag should be lifted, but an appeals court decided that the library group's identity should remain a secret while the Justice Department tries to persuade the appeals court to overturn the judge's decision.

At a news conference in Washington today, members of Congress, librarians, and civil libertarians said it was crucial that the Connecticut library group -- known as "John Doe" in court papers -- be allowed to openly participate in the debate in Congress on the Patriot Act. Critics of the law say the Patriot Act threatens the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens and undermines their free-speech rights.

While speakers warned of the perils of the Patriot Act and accused the Justice Department of deceiving Congress in how federal officials have used the law, they were surrounded by eight librarians who covered their mouths with masking tape that bore the letters "NSL," for national-security letter. As one of the speakers implored Mr. Gonzales to lift the gag, the librarians peeled off the pieces of tape in unison. Following the news conference the group headed to the Justice Department to present officials with a petition of 25,000 signatures that urged the department to allow John Doe to freely speak about its personal experience with the Patriot Act.

Please leave a DNA sample when you check out books...

Oh, we've also placed a mind control chip in the reserve room. Your mind won't mind implanting checking it out.
[More great library signs here]

No more stock footage of hair-netted, buttoned-sweater, teardrop-bespectacled librarians for me. Librarians are way cooler than James Bond and Lara Croft. They are fighting institutionalized thought control and working to preserve our freedoms and our very way of life. They are heroes -- in the purest sense of the word.

And I want to say a big thanks!!!

[Lowered voice] Right. Sorry. Um, please try to whisper any comments. Okay?


UPDATE: According to the ALA, twelve days ago:

Ginsburg denies ACLU application (PDF: October 7, 2005)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has denied the ACLU application for emergency relief in Doe v. Gonzales, the Connecticut librarian's challenge to an NSL.

In short, this means that the case will proceed in the Second Circuit, to which the government appealed a lower court's order to strike down the NSL provision of section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The gag order binding Doe will remain in effect during that time.

It seems Gonzales, who finds the Geneva Convention "quaint," prefers his librarians gagged. So what happens if they choose to rip that duct tape off their mouths? Will they be forced to sit in stress positions at the reference desk?


Anonymous said...

So I guess I probably shouldn't have checked out "How to Topple the American Government for Dummies." Shit.

--Jack Kerouac-job

John Sobieski said...

Funny, when I go to the library and check out a book, everything seems normal. It hasn't affected me, but I am not planning to kill anyone either.

cruelanimal said...

Hamlet says: "I know not seems." Everything seemed normal in Oz, too -- until Toto pulled the curtain back.

You know what's behind that curtain now, Axis? Your lost right to privacy.

Besides, how do you know you haven't been affected? The PATRIOT ACT provides that the librarians, bookstore owners, web providers, et. al. are not allowed by law to inform you that you've been targeted for investigation.

Maybe you aren't planning on killing anyone. Me neither. But does it follow that the authorities -- without a shred of probable cause -- are justified to snoop into what books we borrow and buy...and where we surf on the Net?

Big Brother may already know that you've been to my site tonight -- but your internet provider and Blogger are "gagged." Those entities risk federal prosecution if they inform you of any request to turn over records of your emails, downloads, web site visitations, and on, and on.

Sleep tight...

Anonymous said...


And now, comrade Librarian Laura
Would like to take the floor and remind
Us all of what everybody in the American
Commune has been reading lately.

Of course, we on the Proletarian Reform
Committee recognize that Comrade Laura
Has had a considerable challenge, since
Internet searches can be very hard to trace
And even harder to block from inquisitive minds.

Fortunately, Comrade Laura has a reputation
For staging poetry festivals that celebrate
God and her husband, the President,
And which have led to an even more useful
List of those dissenters against the war.

Comrade Laura looks so charming, so docile,
That she has come to embody gentility
Despite her husband's cocaine addiction,
And when she smiles, you can see
She still has all her teeth.

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