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Week of 6.2.06

Tangled Web

This week NOW speaks to George Christian, one of four librarians subjected to a gag order after the FBI demanded records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.

The librarians spoke out for the first time on Tuesday (May 30) after a U.S. District Judge ordered the gag order lifted and prosecutors dropped an appeal of that order. At a press conference organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the librarians expressed their dismay at the government's insistence that they keep quiet.

The librarians, represented by the ACLU, are continuing to fight the FBI's request for information about their patrons, said Ann Beeson, ACLU's associate legal director. She added that some of the librarians' identities were made public last year when government documents about the case failed to redact their names.

The Patriot Act, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, removed a requirement that any records sought in a terrorism investigation be those of someone under suspicion. At present, anyone's records can be obtained if the FBI considers them relevant to a terrorism or spying investigation.

Below are some statements from the librarians:

George Christian

George Christian "As a citizen, I was shocked by the restraints the gag order imposed upon me. I am incensed that the government uses provisions of the Patriot Act to justify unrestrained and secret access to the records of libraries. Free public libraries exist in this country to promote democracy by allowing the public to inform itself on the issues of the day. The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling. It can't help but be intimidating, and it is not something I believe the government should be allowed to do," said George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection, Inc., a consortium of libraries in central Connecticut.

Barbara Bailey

Barbara Bailey "Due to some sloppy redacting on the government's part, our identity was eventually revealed to those who took the time to plow through the court briefs. Even though our identity was public due to their own mistakes, the government still insisted that we could not speak and we had the additional burden of having to deal with the press. Fortunately for me, I was only contacted twice, and both times they received my voice mail at home and in the office. I didn't want people to think I was rude but I could not return the calls. It was also difficult to sit among colleagues and listen to them discuss John Doe - I had to work hard to keep my mouth shut!" said Barbara Bailey, president, Library Connection Inc. and director of the Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Peter Chase

Peter Chase "It was galling for me to see the government's attorney in Connecticut, Kevin O'Connor, travel around the state telling people that their library records were safe, while at the same time he was enforcing a gag order preventing me from telling people that their library records were not safe. On one occasion, we were both invited to speak at the same event in Hartford, sponsored by the Women's League of Voters. Mr. O'Connor accepted his invitation, but I had to refuse mine because of the gag order," said Peter Chase, vice president, Library Connection Inc. He also serves as director of the Plainville Public Library and chairman of the Intellectual Freedom Committee for the Connecticut Library Association.

Janet Nocek

Janet Nocek "Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience ... Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers," said Janet Nocek, secretary, Library Connection Inc. Nocek also serves as library director for the Portland library in Portland, Connecticut.