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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Four librarians gagged and threatened with prison time under the Patriot Act

...and not to be overlooked is the time of the incident - 2005 - during Bush-the-Younger's reign. Congress is complicit in these un-Constitutional crimes against citizens.

Glaringly obvious is the 100% lack of effort or intent from Congress to even BEGIN to investigate all these congressional oversight(?) unlawful failures. Makes one realize they don't even care as long as it's not them, eh?

"The fact that the government can and is eavesdropping on patrons in libraries has a chilling effect."

Posted on July 6, 2014 by in News
The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. (Source: Robert Deutsch / USA Today)
The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. (Source: Robert Deutsch / USA Today)

WINDSOR, CT — Using the broad powers granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, the FBI demanded that 4 librarians produce private information about library patrons' reading habits, then used an endless gag order to force them to remain silent about the request for the rest of their lives under penalty of prison time.

In July 2005, two FBI agents came to the office of the Library Connection, located in Windsor, Connecticut.  The Library Connection is a nonprofit co-op of library databases that arranges record-sharing between 27 different libraries.  It facilitates book rental tracking and other services.

The National Security Letter delivered to the Library Connection in 2005. (Source: Wikipedia)

The FBI handed Library Connection's executive director George Christian a document which demanded that he produce "any and all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity" that had used library computers between 4:00 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on February 15, 2005, in any of the 27 libraries whose computer systems were managed by the Library Connection.

The FBI was demanding that the library hand over private data on library patrons en masse "to protect against international terrorism."

The document that Mr. Christian was given was a so-called National Security Letter (NSL), a type of administrative subpoena for personal information — self-written by the FBI without any probable cause or judicial oversight.  The legal framework for these powerful NSLs was established by Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001.

What's more, Mr. Christian was placed under a perpetual gag order.  The NSL prohibited the recipient "from disclosing to any person that the F.B.I. has sought or obtained access to information or records under these provisions."  The gag order was broad enough that it was a crime to discuss the matter to any other person — for life.  The USA PATRIOT Act allows for this suppression of speech, and issues a punishment of up to 5 years in prison for anyone caught violating the endless gag order.

When Mr. Christian received the NSL, he was unsure about whether or not he could even consult a lawyer or his board of directors.  Technically, the gag order did indeed prevent any such discussion.

The only reason we know about this case today is because Mr. Christian and 3 other library board members fought back in court.   The other librarians involved were Barbara Bailey, president of the Library Connection; Peter Chase, vice president of the Library Connection; and Jan Nocek, secretary of the Library Connection.

The ACLU took up their cause and challenged the validity of the gag order in court.  The librarians became known as the Connecticut Four, but could not individually identified for many months.  In suing U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, they could only be named "John Doe" and were required to remain in silence about the case under threat of prison time.   The case was known as Doe v. Gonzales.

The lawsuit stated that the Library Connection "strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records, and believes it should not be forced to disclose such records without a showing of compelling need and approval by a judge."

"I was shocked by the restraints the gag order imposed on me," Mr. Christian later told the New York Times.

The four librarians under the gag order were not allowed to communicate with each other by phone or email, and were not even allowed to tell their own families about the case.

In fact, the librarians were even barred from attending the court hearings on the very precedent-setting lawsuit with which they were involved.   In an interview with Democracy Now, Mr. Christian described the miniscule amount of participation he and the other plaintiffs were allowed in the case:

When we first sued the Attorney General, I told our attorneys I'd like to be in the courtroom. After all, I'm the plaintiff. And they said no. They had talked to the judge. That would not be allowed, because then our identity could be guessed. But the judge did allow us to go to a courtroom in Hartford, sixty miles away, where we were locked in a room with a security guard and able to watch our case on a monitor. But as the plaintiffs, we were not allowed in the courtroom.
…The release of our identity would be considered a national security threat, because, they reasoned then, whoever they were interested in would realize that the FBI was closing in, although, with twenty-six libraries, I doubt they could really make that a case.   We did get to attend the appellate court, along with Nick Merrill. We didn't know at that time whether Nick was a male or a female. We were instructed to enter the courtroom in New York independently, to enter the building independently, not to sit with each other, not to have eye contact, not to have eye contact with our attorneys. But at least we could participate in the audience and watch our case being argued.