[JURIST] George Christian, one of the librarians who in 2005 challenged a National Security Letter (NSL) [sample text, PDF; ACLU backgrounder] ordering the release of computer records, told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution in testimony [prepared remarks] Wednesday that government power to probe private library records should be subject to some kind of review process before or after the fact. The ACLU in 2005 filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] on behalf of Christian as well as three other librarians subjected to an NSL, and in September 2006 US District Judge Janet Hall lifted a gag order [JURIST report] restricting the four librarians from even disclosing that they had one, ruling that it unfairly prevented librarians from participating in debate about the proper revision of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] before the government renewed [JURIST report] the anti-terror legislation in March. Christian testified:
The path we chose in Connecticut is based on a longstanding principle of librarianship - our deep rooted commitment to patron confidentiality that assures that libraries are places of free inquiry, where citizens go to inform themselves on ideas and issues, without fear that their inquiries would be known to anyone else. The freedom to read is part and parcel of our First Amendment rights. To function, the public must trust that libraries are committed to such confidentiality. When the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law, our Connecticut library community, like the American Library Association, many other librarians as well as booksellers, authors and others, were concerned about the lack of judicial oversight as well as the secrecy associated with a number of the Act's provisions and the NSLs in particular.Federal prosecutors abandoned appeal efforts [JURIST report] in April 2006. AP has more.
Libraries are, of course, subject to law enforcement. Librarians respect the law and most certainly want to do the right thing when it comes to pursuing terrorists and protecting our country. We recognize and accept that, with appropriate judicial review, law enforcement can obtain certain patron information with subpoenas and appropriate court orders. We are not talking about absolute patron privacy. What has disturbed the library community in recent years has been the idea that the government could use the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA and other laws to learn what our innocent patrons were researching in our libraries with no prior judicial oversight or any after-the-fact review.