PATRIOT Watch: Patriot Act smackdown: Librarians 1, FBI 0

This news came down while I was at ALA, but I was running around too much to write it down. The government has closed their investigation in the now-infamous case in Connecticut where librarians who work at Library Connection, Inc [a library ISP] challenged the constitutionality of the gag order involved with a National Security Letter, saying “[I]t had determined through other means that the case was meritless.” National Security Letters are a part of the USA PATRIOT Act worth knowing about.

The NSL is a legal oddity of the Patriot Act, and it allows the FBI to make a unilateral demand which would usually require court oversight. In effect, an NSL requires the FBI to police itself, making it similar to asking the fox to watch a mirror. Although exact figures are impossible to come by, it is estimated that some 30,000 NSLs are now sent out each year. An NSL also comes with the added bonus onus of never allowing the recipient to publicly discuss its contents, topic, or even existence. In other words, the recipient is supposed to get the NSL, comply with it, and pretend nothing ever happened.

The librarians had already seen the gag order lifted, so the closing of the investigation doesn’t add legal weight to this issue, but it does wrap up the incident somewhat nicely. If you read all the way through the article, please check out the discussion on this page containing my favorite “go go librarian” quote of the week.

Librarians have long been the unsung defenders of our (US) privacy and open access. Publicly funded libraries are nearly as important as free education IMO.

Astonishing most people still don’t know they can call their library and ask for answers to most any question. Are there monkeys in Borneo? What is that goop on scratch tickets? Who owned my building in 1881? The reference librarian predates the web and the ‘net and is still sometimes better because he or she is trained specifically for the task: masters degrees in finding and sorting information AND privacy. Want to read that obscure 1938 SF title? Interlibrary Loan for the win.

Girl librarians are also hot. Recommended for geek dating: smart, techy goodness. I speak from experience, lived with one for seven years.

One Response to “PATRIOT Watch: Patriot Act smackdown: Librarians 1, FBI 0”

  1. caleb Says:

    are you joking? nobody knows how many points the fbi has, but it ain’t zero.

    it’s a small victory, long and hard fought, not to mention well deserved, but it doesn’t seem like much has changed.