DOJ vs ALA, a legal look at the USAPA

More heavy USAPA reading that is worth reading in its entirety “Baseless Hysteria”: The Controversy between the Department of Justice and the American Library Association over the USA PATRIOT Act [big pdf] from this month’s Law Library Journal. The article outlines the back-and-forth that happened between the US DoJ and the American Library Association primarily during September 2003. You may recall some of these anecdotes were linked here, some of them I hadn’t even read until now, particularly this chestnut by Ashcroft in paragraph 34-35.

Rather than simply reporting the facts about the use of the Act with respect to library records, as he had with all the facts regarding the successes of antiterrorism efforts, Ashcroft continued to ridicule his opponents. His speech on September 18 went on to say: “And wouldn’t you know it. So prying are we, so overheated is our passion to know the reading habits of Americans that we have used this authority exactly . . . never. . . . And so the charges of the hysterics are revealed for what they are: castles in the air. Built on misrepresentation. Supported by unfounded fear. Held aloft by hysteria.”…. Since participation in the events scheduled for the twenty-city tour was by invitation only, and Ashcroft appears to have tailored his remarks for these selected audiences, it is unlikely we will know what was actually said. The fact that the sarcasm and ridicule were scripted is, however, disturbing and beneath the professional conduct one would expect of the attorneygeneral of the United States.

The author’s ultimate conclusion is not the “rah rah librarians” cry that we’re used to hearing. She includes some thoughtful reflection on how the ALA could have put a diferent spin on their official reaction and follow-up to the AGs remarks, and how this could have been an opportunity, perhaps, for law enforcement and librarians to work together to understand each other. While I’m not sure I agree with her conclusions — there is some well-placed mistrust between librarians and law enforcement that can’t be smoothed over without having both sides understand the concerns and mandates of the other — the article makes for worthwhile fact-filled reading that will enhance anyone’s understanding of the USAPA.

It is unfortunate that the debate between the attorney general and Carla Hayden was so narrowly focused on the struggle of the ALAto wrest information from the government about the use of the USA PATRIOT Act in libraries. Managed in a less reactionary manner, the debate could have been an opportunity to have a broader discussion about how, in this age of rapidly changing technology, librarians are not book babysitters but rather information managers in institutions that have become information centers for their communities. The discussion could have been an opportunity for law enforcement to educate librarians on the process of criminal and foreign intelligence investigations, and for both librarians and law enforcement officials to find ways to work together for mutual safety and the protection of civil rights. Simply put, this failure to communicate facts and ideas instead of emotional barbs precluded the exchange of meaningful information. [thanks jack]