Patriot Act Goes to the Library

One would never think that four librarians from Connecticut would be the ones to resist a federal law. However, Peter Chase and George Christian were two such people. Pre-senting a lecture at the Bailey /Howe Library on March 20th, Chase and Christian discussed their personal confrontation with the Patriot Act.

After receiving a National Security letter from the FBI requesting information about one of their patrons, Chase and Christian, as well as two other Connecticut librarians, refused to comply. The letter they received was equipped with a gag order that, if broken, would land the four of them in prison for up to 5 years. The librarians were irate.

The Patriot Act, enacted by George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2001 after the tragedy of September 11, entitles the FBI to confidential information without any judicial warrant. Initially meant to serve as a means to fight terrorism, with its ability to attain private information so easily, it has many questioning its constitutionality as well as its moral integrity.

The legislation has been sweeping. Its mission is to be “uniting and strengthening America to intercept terrorism.” However, many see it as not only an infringement on their privacy, but also as a threat to their civil liberties.

These two Connecticut librarians wanted no part in it.

“They [the FBI] wanted us to sell our patrons out, in the dark of night. No one else would know about it,” Peter Chase, one of the four librarians to give the lecture, said.

“They have the complete right to pry into anyone’s life,” added George Christian the other Connecticut librarian to attend the lecture.

Article 11-25 of the confidentiality records of the Connecticut Library contradicts the Patriot Act, stating, “personally identifiable information contained in the circulation records shall remain confidential.”

Based on this, and its unconstitutional restriction on speech, the four librarians brought the matter to court as anonymous plaintiffs. Word of their resistance spread like wild fire, causing newspapers and magazines alike to question the identity of this “John Doe” Connecticut. Chase, although an authority on civil liberties as a chairman on the Intellectual Freedom Committee for the Connecticut Library Association, was unable to comment on the bill due to his gag order.

The National Security letter shown on a projector during the lecture is in fact the only one that has been shown publicly. According to The Washington Post, 150,000 letters have been issued by the FBI, however, because of the gag order, the public doesn’t know about any of them.

“The gag order deprived our ability to speak, and also to think…it put a lid on public debate. No one’s questioning, no one is even aware,” Christian said.

With the renewal of the act on March 2, 2006, the gag order was dropped, causing the librarians’ judicial appeals to drop with it. However, with renewed vigor, the librarians went public.

Many say they have no issue with the government searching their records because they have nothing to hide. However, “while it may not lead to anything immediately, that’s on permanent file,” Chase refuted.

Christian agreed. “Even if you want your life to be an open book, do you really think that should be the policy of the United States?”

Audience members were concerned, asking what they could do.

“Speak up, say something. [Senator] Leahy will list to what you have to say – He might not agree, but he will listen,” Chase said. “There is a time and a place for everything. Now is the time to stand up.”

The audience agreed. As one member put it, “Individuals really need to speak out and say ‘enough is enough.'”