Librarians Just Say No to Patriot Act

Posted on June 27, 2007

Wired reports on librarians who refused to comply with the Patriot Act.

Life in an FBI muzzle is no fun. Two Connecticut librarians on Sunday described what it was like to be slapped with an FBI national security letter and accompanying gag order. It sounded like a spy movie or, gulp, something that happens under a repressive foreign government. Peter Chase and Barbara Bailey, librarians in Plainville, Connecticut, received an NSL to turn over computer records in their library on July 13, 2005. Unlike a suspected thousands of other people around the country, Chase, Bailey and two of their colleagues stood up to the Man and refused to comply, convinced that the feds had no right to intrude on anyone's privacy without a court order (NSLs don't require a judge's approval). That's when things turned ugly.

The four librarians under the gag order weren't allowed to talk to each other by phone. So they e-mailed. Later, they weren't allowed to e-mail. After the ACLU took on the case and it went to court in Bridgeport, the librarians were not allowed to attend their own hearing. Instead, they had to watch it on closed circuit TV from a locked courtroom in Hartford, 60 miles away. "Our presence in the courtroom was declared a threat to national security," Chase said.

Forced to make information public as the case moved forward, the government resorted to one of its favorite tactics: releasing heavily redacted versions of documents while outing anyone who didn't roll over for Uncle Sam. In this case, they named Chase, despite the fact that he was legally compelled to keep his own identity secret.

Eventually, the gag order was rescinded by the government after the Patriot Act was renewed. And it all turned out to be much ado about nothing. The librarians refused to comply with a law they found invasive, but no criminal acts were ever discovered in connection with the affected library records.

It's amazing how brave those librarians were. Most people would have folded at the first sight of an FBI badge.



More from Writers Write