why is the ACLU suing the Library of Congress?

The ACLU filed a lawsuit agains the Library of Congress for terminating a CRS Assistant Director for writing a letter to the editor for the Washington post and an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Colonel Morris D. Davis was, prior to his CRS position, responsible for the prosecution of suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay.

62. Because of his former position as the Chief Prosecutor for the military commissions, Col. Davis is regularly asked to comment on Guantánamo and the military commissions system. Col. Davis believes he has a unique perspective to add to this debate, and he would like to convey his insights and opinions to the public. Since he was informed that he was being terminated by CRS, however, Col. Davis has declined numerous opportunities to speak publicly about military commissions issues out of fear that he could be subject to further retaliation by the Library and [CRS Director Daniel] Mulhollan.
63. The decision to terminate Col. Davis for his speech has intimidated and chilled other CRS employees from speaking and writing in public. CRS employees are confused, uncertain, and fearful about what outside speaking and writing is permissible.
64. As a result of the Library’s and Mr. Mulhollan’s actions, Col. Davis has suffered, and/or will suffer, both economic and non-economic losses, emotional distress, and other compensable damages.

Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books

Library Journal put up a quick article about the Topeka Library Board’s decision from yesterday to restrict access to four books with sexual themes. I was following most of the meeting, in realtime with photos by keeping an eye on David Lee King’s twitter feed (starting about here) as I was in my all day meeting. Here’s the brief story from the AP Wire. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this story.

One lawyer at the meeting told the newspaper he had already been approached by potential plaintiffs. “Because it would take these books off the shelves and place them out of reach of patrons browsing the shelves, the proposed policy is unconstitutional,” warned the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri in a letter to the board.

ACLU: Internet content filters, not for governments to decide

“Government imposed censorship is very different from censorship imposed by a parent.”
“Internet content filtering does in fact have flaws… It overblocks.”

Thanks to Sarah for the heads up and kudos for the ACLU using your research. I find that numbers, not emotional appeals are what are going to really help make the case against governmentally-mandated filters. Here’s hoping.

is this the CIPA lawsuit we have been waiting for?

Seth links to an ACLU-WA press release which states that they are helping three patrons and a non-profit bring a lawsuit against the North Central Regional Library System in Eastern Washington for not allowing adult patrons to disable the SmartFilter filtering software that the library places on its public access computers. No statement from the library in the ACLU press release, or on their own website at this point. I hope they can resolve this in some amicable way that involves a whole new tough look at CIPA and the overfiltering that often happens in the name of compliance. From the press release:

Bess blocks a very broad array of lawful information, and the NCRL has refused to unblock sites for patrons.

The lawsuit contends that the library system’s policy of refusing to disable its Internet filters at the request of adults who wish to conduct bona fide research or to access the Web for other lawful purposes violates the United States and Washington State constitutions. The suit seeks an order directing the NCRL to provide unblocked access to the Internet when adults request it.

As you may recall, CIPA mandates that libraries who get E-rate money “have the ability to block minors from seeing “visual depictions” of sexual activity” which usually involves installing filters.

However, the Supreme Court decision also made it clear that if these filters wound up blocking constitutionally protected speech from adults, there might be trouble. That is to say, the law was judged to be constitutional on its face, but it was undetermined whether the law was also constitutional as it is applied. This lawsuit may help untangle some of that

In the meantime, according to the Public Libraries and the Internet report issued by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at the College of Information, Florida State University (at around p. 100 but read the whole thing) “15.3% (+/- 3.6%) of libraries [surveyed] said [t]he library has applied for E-rate in the past, but because of the need to comply with CIPA, our library decided not to apply in 2006.” This is a damned shame. The Institute surveyed almost 5,000 libraries, a pretty large group of libraries. To hear that over 700 libraries decided to forego E-rate money to avoid the burden of filtering… well what does that tell you?

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.

Doe v. Gonzales: now it can be told, officially

Plaintiffs in Doe v. Ashcroft — the lawsuit that questioned the gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, the one that the government decided not to appeal — tell their story at an ACLU press conference. They are employees of the Library Connection. Here are the official statements of George Christian, Janet Nocek, Barbara Bailey and 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.

PATRIOT Watch: “but for the gag” US government declines to pursue gag order appeal

The US Government has abandoned its pursuit of an appeal to a struck-down gag order against the Connecticut librarian who had received a demand for library records by the FBI. In short, the gag order is lifted and this is good news.

The case, Doe vs Gonzales, concerned a librarian who was served with a National Security Letter (NSL). The librarian [identified as George Christian in other newspapers], who appears to already have been an outspoken advocate of intellectual freedom, objected to the gag order [biggish pdf, a few screenshots here] disallowing him from speaking to his own library, the CT Library Assocation or the American Library Association about this issue. He argues that the gag order prevented him from creating effective policies should such a thing happen again, and prevented him from educating other libraries about the existence and specifics of NSLs.

National Security Letters, USAPA and you

The Washington Post has an article about the USA PATRIOT Act case from Connecticut, now with details and a long discussion about National Security Letters. Please note the software angle in this article.

[The FBI] gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person” who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow. [emphasis mine]

So you can configure a system to be as private as you can make it, but it may not be private enough.

Many Rhode Island library filters made less restrictive in response to ACLU report

Remember that report the Rhode Island ACLU wrote about how libraries were overfiltering or erratically filtering the Internet access they were providing? The ACLU claimed that the libraries were blocking access to constitutionally protected material. The Rhode Island library consortium Cooperating Libraries Automated Network, which most RI public libraries belong to, has made its filtering policy less restrictive. Public library directors have been emailed instructions on how to turn off the Internet filters. The ACLU said in their press release that they are still monitoring the situation

[T]he ACLU is concerned that some libraries have independently chosen to block categories beyond CLAN’s minimum option. Four libraries reported such additional blocks on the ACLU’s most recent survey, while 18 libraries failed to respond to the survey, leaving the extent of over-blocking unclear. ACLU officials say that libraries that block these additional categories, which range from “gambling” to “illegal,” are creating a serious impediment to free speech.

USAPA lawsuit?

Sabrina points to some disturbing news from the ACLU about a PATRIOT Act related attempt to demand library records. Thanks to the gag order, the actual ACLU lawsuit has been heavily redacted but it’s summarized in news reports. Note that this is NOT a Section 215 challenge as near as we can tell, though the case in question does seem to pertain to a library or an entity holding library records.