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Librarians Against the Patriot Act By: Michael Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 27, 2006

Who is the ultimate authority on whether a homeland security surveillance measure is appropriate: the president, Congress, or the Supreme Court? According to its president, the answer is the American Library Association.

Dom Giordano, talk show host for Philadelphia’s radio station WPHT 1210-AM, interviewed American Library Association (ALA) president Michael Gorman on February 9. One of issues addressed concerned the ALA’s policy towards governmental investigation of library patron’s reading materials.

During the interview Gorman reiterated the policy of the ALA, which instructs librarians to ensure that any search warrants they receive from the FBI regarding library records are legal. They advise librarians to consult with legal counsel. Apparently, the librarians of the American Library Association are the self-appointed sentinels of the civil liberties of American citizens.


Yet, the ALA policy concerns whether a librarian should comply with a search warrant – issued by a genuine neutral magistrate, not a self-appointed one – for authorities who want to determine if an individual is a fanatic planning to participate in a terrorist plot. The federal government is not implementing an investigation of an individual’s politics – which is what totalitarian societies do.


However, the ALA disagrees. Its resolution on the USA PATRIOT Act states, “The American Library Association (ALA) opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.”


On its webpage, the ALA announces, “The USA PATRIOT Act…expanded the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to…library records, including stored electronic data and communications…These enhanced surveillance procedures pose the greatest challenge to privacy and confidentiality in the library.”


Moreover, the ALA has drafted a policy that states that they intend to resist enforcement of this law if they feel it is inappropriate. Point number three of the ALA Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records recommends that librarians, “Resist the issuance of enforcement of any such process, order, or subpoena until such time as a proper showing of good cause has been made in a court of competent jurisdiction.” They then qualify this by stating, “the library's officers will consult with their legal counsel to determine if such process, order, or subpoena is in proper form and if there is a showing of good cause for its issuance.” The ALA then refers their members to the Library Bill of Rights, a policy adopted in 1948 by the ALA Council.


First Amendment activist Nat Hentoff, a writer for the Village Voice, is not too happy with the ALA Council. Hentoff, who supports the ALA's campaign against the PATRIOT Act, apparently believes the ALA Council is hypocritical. Hentoff wrote: 

while I am impressed by this assembly of mass indignation (about the PATRIOT Act)… there's something missing. So far as I know, in this congregation of freedom-to-read activists, not one on the list—except for PEN—has said or done anything about the torment that 10 independent librarians in Cuba are undergoing in Fidel Castro's gulag, along with 65 other pro-democracy dissidents rounded up in the dictator's crackdown in April last year…The governing council of the American Library Association, an organization on the list, disgraced itself in January when it overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to a final report at its mid-winter meeting telling Castro to let the librarians out. Apparently there are members of the council who romanticize Fidel, as do some Hollywood celebrities.

Hentoff also wrote that directors of the ALA and some members believe that independent Cuban librarians are lackeys of the U.S. government (something they would never be). He quotes Mark Rosenzweig of the ALA’s governing council as saying, “we cannot presume that all countries are capable of the same level of intellectual freedom that we have in the U.S. Cuba is caught in an extremely sharp conflict with the U.S....I don't think [Cuba] is a dictatorship. It's a republic.”



Rosenzweig is alsothe Director of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies. A Marxist civil libertarian seems like an oxymoron to me....


A January 2001 report by the ALA’s International Relations Caribbean Subcommittee incredibly concluded, “While the civil oppression of individuals (Cuban independent librarians)…appears to be documented by Amnesty International and other observers, it is not conclusive whether these conditions result from the denial of intellectual freedom or from anti-government activities by the persons involved.”


So if one is to understand this correctly, the ALA deems it permissible for the “civil oppression of individuals” to occur if it is the result of “anti-government activities” by those individuals. Yet, the FBI investigating whether someone who reads Muslim terrorist publications, or books describing bomb making, or communicating with suspected terrorists, is a threat to the Republic is not okay?


This report also quoted Ann Sparanese, of the Englewood (NJ) Public Library as saying, “Almost all the individuals operating these 'libraries' identify themselves as dissidents and members of anti-Castro political parties…she has seen no evidence of censorship or confiscation of books in her many visits to Cuba.”


Others besides Nat Hentoff have criticized ALA’s hypocrisy as well. Only a few weeks ago, at the January 25, 2006 ALA midwinter meeting, author and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu, who was an invited speaker, chided the ALA for not condemning the imprisonment of Cuban librarians.


Maine librarian Walter Skold, is a co-founder of FREADOM, a coalition of - one might say - libertarian librarians who have campaigned for freeing the Cuban librarians. Skold has written for FrontPage Magazine concerning the Castro sympathizers among the ALA membership.


How can Americans believe that the ALA’s campaign against the PATRIOT Act is legitimate because of their love of American civil liberties when many of the ALA membership admire one of the most terrible violators of civil liberties extant? The ALA has no credibility. It is not so much concerned about American civil liberties as it is about making a political statement about Republicans, President Bush and the conservative value of Americans defending themselves from all threats foreign and domestic?


In November 2003, the National Constitution Center conducted a poll in association with the Gallup organization, asking, “Do you think the PATRIOT Act goes too far, is about right, or does not go far enough in restricting people’s civil liberties in order to fight terrorism?”


All told, 45 percent of those who replied said the PATRIOT Act was about right, while 20 percent said it did not go far enough. Only 25 percent of those surveyed by the National Constitution Center / Gallup poll – neither of which is considered a member of the vast right wing conspiracy - said the Patriot Act goes too far in restricting people’s civil liberties in order to fight terrorism. 

The ALA does not seem to have public opinion on its side. Nor does it have reason, consistency, or good common sense.

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Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the new novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca@comcast.net.

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