American Library Association President Courtney Young brought national attention to the history of library advocacy around privacy, surveillance and the USA PATRIOT Act this week when Beltway powerhouse publication The Hill published Young’s moving op-ed “Long Lines for Freedom.” In the op-ed, Young discusses the library community’s vocal involvement in opposing the PATRIOT Act:
Today, close to 400 librarians and library supporters from every state in the nation will line up to enter every Congressional office building. Each individual advocate in those queues will be effectively standing in for more than 10,000 of the well over 4,000,000 people who use public, academic, and school libraries in America every day.
As they wait patiently to clear security, the American Library Association’s citizen lobbyists will review the positions that they and the millions “behind them” urge Members of Congress to take on a sweeping range of issues: robust federal funding for school libraries and literacy programs, maximum taxpayer access to government information, copyright that correctly balances protection with sparking innovation, and assuring network neutrality.
No issue, however, will be closer to their hearts — nor is of more concern to enormous numbers of Americans — than finally recalibrating the nation’s privacy and surveillance laws. Change is urgently needed to restore to our laws respect for Americans’ civil liberties compromised in 2001, and still badly undermined today, by the USA PATRIOT Act, the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and several “cybersecurity” proposals under consideration.
The hundreds of librarians and library supporters “hitting the Hill” are part of another long line: one comprised of tens of thousands of their colleagues who, sometimes at great personal risk, have stood for many decades for the rights of library patrons’ reading, borrowing and now internet surfing records to be safe from sweeping and literally “un-warranted” bulk collection by law enforcement authorities and the indefinite retention of that information. Courageous librarians in Connecticut remain among the few to openly and legally challenge a National Security Letter seeking such records under the USA Patriot Act, and its associated total “gag order.” The case was withdrawn before a federal judge could review its merits, leaving the heroes known now as the “Connecticut Four” free to speak out, as they have for years, against the power and perils of this flawed law.
Moving forward, ALA’s Office of Government Relations will continue to work with privacy coalition partners to call for reforms to our nation’s surveillance laws. The Association has recently lent its support for the passage of an unweakened USA FREEDOM Act.