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.
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.
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.
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.
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.