DiFi and Pat Leahy, Silencing the Librarians

librarian-shh.thumbnail.jpgThere’s a cynical passage in the new PATRIOT language that DiFi put forward the other night. It basically creates an exception in the worsened Section 215 language just for libraries.

‘‘(B) if the records sought pertain to libraries (as defined in section 213(1) of the Library Services and Technology Act (20 U.S.C. 9122(1)), including library records or patron lists, a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought—‘‘(i) are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against inter-national terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities; and ‘‘(ii)(I) pertain to a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; ‘‘(II) are relevant to the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or ‘‘(III) pertain to an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power;

This language requires that before investigators demand libraries turn over records, they must first prove that the person to whom the records pertain is either an intelligence investigation suspect, or is in contact with one. So for library records, and library records only, the new language requires some showing of reasonable cause first before the investigators can request the information.

During the hearing, Ben Cardin asked why there was a special standard for libraries (at about 108:30 in the hearing). Kyl offered this explanation for the exception (one he disagrees with):

Kyl: There was such a–I would say–unwarranted and irrational, and I certainly don’t apply that word to anyone here but from some folks out in the country–concern about library records as the result of blogs and so on, it was simply easier to say, okay, cut it loose, it’s important but not that important to hold up the rest of the legislation.


In order to get rid of the political argument that was, essentially, irrelevant in almost all investigations, it was simply easier to cut that lose and have a different standard for it.

Durbin then calls Leahy and Kyl on their cynicism, arguing that the exception just for libraries proves that the underlying principle of Section 215, as written, is unsound.

Durbin: Senator Kyl raised an interesting question. Why aren’t more people complaining about this if it is such a problem? Because most innocent Americans don’t have a clue what’s going on here, that their own personal information, documentation, tangible things, and business records, can be, in fact, investigated, and may be investigated. They don’t know. But there was one group, called the American Library Association, that said, "we’re going to stand up for everybody. Not just those that know their rights are being violated, but those who might be violated, we think there’s a constitutional principle involved in it." You have characterized their efforts as unwarranted and irrational. I see it differently. Senator Kyl’s entitled to his opinion. I think they were very rational and constitutional. And because they stood up for the principle and made the noise, in your words, we’re gonna cut ’em loose. We’re going to get rid of a political argument here when it comes to libraries. But it’s totally inconsistent. If all of the hospitals in America come together with the American Hospital Association and say, "we want to protect the confidentiality of our medical records for innocent Americans who haven’t been accused of any possibility of terrorism." If they make enough noise and enough quote irrational noise, are we going to except them the next time that we go through this? Is the principle sound if that’s the case? I think the principle is sound enough that it was passed unanimously here four years ago and should be passed again.

As Kyl and Durbin have this exchange, Leahy twice pushes for an immediate vote, with Feinstein pushing, too. Ultimately the committee votes–on an amendment to reinstate the controls on Article 215 that Leahy had originally had in the bill–to kill the amendment.

Durbin and Kyl are right.  Leahy and DiFi included this language solely to avoid a political fight with an existing lobby that knows the implications of this Section. They know that if too many other groups realize the implications of the librarians’ larger argument, more people will object.

So to prevent the librarians from doing anything to mess up their attack on the Fourth Amendment, two Democratic Senators have just bought their silence with this clause of the bill.

(Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

32 replies
  1. Jesterfox says:

    The librarians I know wouldn’t shut up just because someone tried to buy their silence. They would recognise that they had won the argument and press their advantage. After all, they were arguing before on behalf of people who did not know that their rights were being violated. That hasn’t changed. There are still people who don’t know that their rights are being violated.

  2. emptywheel says:

    I’m trying to figure out how we can get the ALA to call out the AHA for not making the same efforts to protect their patrons’ privacy and the libraries have. It’d be useful at this juncture for a number of reasons.

  3. nomolos says:

    My local library wanted not only proof of residency but, post the new fascist orders, photo ID. I have been a resident in those town for 30 years and had, up until the new rules, been a regular borrower and had, on occasion, read stories to children there and fixed their computers for nothing! I no longer have a library card and have not been back to the building as I will not comply with brown shirt orders. I do however go back to Boston every couple of weeks where I quite happily, and anonymously, use the library there.

    The trouble with some of these laws is that, although many librarians say they do and will not comply, there are other librarians, old biddies in NH in particular, that given the chance of exercising “power” will do so with glee and now with the cover of patriotism even disagreeing with them is likely to bring down the jackbooted forces of evil.

    And, by the way, as my father was an author I do suggest, to those that can afford it, buy a book and help a starving artist!

  4. bobschacht says:

    I’m just wondering when Republicans are going to pinch themselves, wake up, and wonder why they are granting gestapo powers to a Democratic President. After all, I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were the party with the slogan, “My home is my castle,” and were opposed to Big Brotherism. Now, they apparently can’t get enough of it.

    I can also remember when the Democrats were the party of Civil Rights– remember that?

    Now both parties seem to be falling all over themselves trying to advance the cause of a fascist government in the U.S. What’s that quote about a people who prefer security to freedom will wind up with neither?

    Bob in AZ

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Coincidentally or not, librarians are now also among the new unemployed. County and city library systems are educational vertebra in the backbone of America’s villages, towns and cities. Theirs are among the first budgets strapped local and state officials are cutting, leading to branch closures, firings, lay-offs and drops in collections and their maintenance.

    The guy who made Scots parsimony a redundant phrase, Andrew Carnegie, saw the light late in life and used a considerable part of what was then the largest fortune in America to found academic and town libraries across the most populous, eastern half of the United States. Their existence benefited from and was a foundation stone for the progressive and self-help movements, which were fundamental in creating what we now call America’s middle class.

    Readin’ and writin’ were the difference between white and blue collar jobs. They made citizens aware of their rights and responsibilities – and those of their elected leaders. It made them aware of the work of the Ida Tarbell’s and other muckrakers, which excoriated the brutal excesses of the Gilded and post-Gilded age in America.

    Removing the standing of librarians to challenge Bush and now Obama’s excesses – enacted to secure our Sicherheit – is as much an eye-opener about the truthiness of Obahma & Rahma as their machinations over enacting health care reform. Act Blue has a lot of work to do, and it starts at the top.

    • skdadl says:

      Readin’ and writin’ were the difference between white and blue collar jobs. They made citizens aware of their rights and responsibilities – and those of their elected leaders. It made them aware of the work of the Ida Tarbell’s and other muckrakers, which excoriated the brutal excesses of the Gilded and post-Gilded age in America.

      Readin’ and writin’ are democracy, make democracy possible, nourish democracy. Diderot and Rousseau knew that. Unfortunately, we have had to reinvent that wheel every few generations since.

      (No offence meant to lovers of wheels of any derivation.)

      • freepatriot says:

        Unfortunately, we have had to reinvent that wheel every few generations since

        for every three steps forward, we take two steps back

        progress is slow, but we’re getting there

        we got two important factors in our favor

        >the arc of progress is long, but it bends toward justice


        Reality has a liberal bias

        repuglitards ain’t figured that out yet

  6. DWBartoo says:

    Well said.

    Would that more Americans understood this ”real” history of what amounts to human progress.

    Genuine education, that expansive affection for learning and understanding, well-mixed with tolerance and reason that lasts a lifetime, rather than the mere acquiring of the ”license” to make a living, is the only consistent means of a people securing, over time, a just, peaceful and democratic society.

  7. freepatriot says:

    Spartans -10

    Big Blue – 6

    great post ew

    did you know there’s a game today ???

    trash talk gets NO RESPECT, no respect at all

  8. Garrett says:

    In 2003, the independent bookstore in Senator Leahy’s home town made a bit of a stink about the gag order NSLs, said they would purge your records if you asked.

    Don’t know why the library up the street from it should only get the protection.

  9. JohnJ says:

    librarians are now also among the new unemployed

    I think this is a “feature not a bug”.

    At the extreme, Pol Pot had people who wore glasses executed because he felt they were too “intellectual”.

    It is intellectual bigotry, or fear of that, that makes thugs what they are; threatened by a world that they perceive as smarter than they are. They think we are all laughing at them. (Of course that is why they use authority and intimidation; they can’t win an argument!)

    People who use Libraries????? They must be terrorists!

  10. bmull says:

    People should be free to live their lives without being under government surveillance! That’s the way it was when I was growing up. Now you’re afraid to google “what is a hydrogen peroxide bomb?” because you might end up on some terror watch list.

    True story: My dad got an FBI file opened on him apparently because his work in public health requires him to travel to a lot of exotic countries. We asked to see what was in the file but we were told we could not. Yet we can’t get rid of it, and it comes up whenever law enforcement runs a background check on him. It’s outrageous.

  11. Knoxville says:

    Speaking of silencing people, what the h*ll is up with President Obama’s new opposition to the “shield law,” proposed legislation that would protect journalists from having to reveal the identity of their sources?

  12. TexBetsy says:

    Do they want a list of all of the trash fiction that I read? Or are they more interested in seeing the videos I check out for my students to watch in class?

  13. DWBartoo says:

    To marymccurnin @ 20

    It is not so much that ”they” care about us, for ”they” are, in fact afraid of both the people and the truth …

    And since ”they” are afraid, ”they” perceive fear as the most-potent means of having their way …

    Also, ”they”, in putting together their New World Order, view it as the ”end-game”, for their power, in spite of appearances, is waning and they know that the time of their unquestioned dominance is, likewise, diminishing everyday.

    As knowledge and information slip beyond their ”control”, their inhumanity,and unsatisfiable greed can no longer be hidden behind social myths or appeals to ”order”.

    They are like the dinosaurs, facing earth-changing climate change … the sole difference being that these reptilian-brain-dominated individuals know that their day is done.

    And they will not go gently into the dustbin of history.

    They intend to throw the grandest hissy-fit this world has ever seen.

    Ought to be quite a show.

  14. Mymy says:

    This whole charade is disturbing, and Durbin was right to call them on it. But this morning I realized the shock of seeing a front page photo of men reading books on the SF Chronicle. Who sees that any more? Of course, they were prisoners… The assault on reading, narrative, the humanities is pervasive and pernicious, and this ‘don’t read anything in the Library, the Government is watching you’ sign (because that’s what it means) is just one more part of this revolting pattern. Fahrenheit 451 indeed.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Libraries also helped keep social reforms peaceful rather than revolutionary.

    In Washington, as in Rome, the ignorant mob is more malleable – for those willing to use the hammer to forge them. Liberals, they want to individuate the “mob” into moms and dads; husbands, brothers, sons and lovers; women, girls, wives and mates, each with their own hopes, dreams and destinies.

  16. ChuckinDenton says:

    Thanks EW. As a librarian, I have particular interest in this.

    Naturally, I’m biased in favor of the expansion of libraries and their services but as we all know, in budgetary crisis, “soft” targets such as Libraries and Parks get cut first.

    What is evident is the conservative desire to more and more outsource the running of public entities to private industry. Now, we can see with the economic crash, where publicly-owned companies would fare. Which will fare better in the end: public or private? Hard to say.

    I’m for true public ownership for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is truly non-biased, non-partisan access to information.

    Sad days for libraries but I can tell you from first hand experience that especially during these times, the information illiterate need us more than ever. We teach folks *how* to fish, rather than giving them fish. Isn’t that an ideal example of how liberal social programs/institutions are supposed to work?

    • Leen says:

      I often ask the International students here at Ohio University what they admire about the U.S. and what they consider our weaknesses. Let them know that they can criticize as much as they like or are comfortable with. That I will not be offended, (kind of obvious if they know me)

      Almost every student I talk with brings up our library system and what a treasure it is. They all want the same library system in their home countries.

      the other day I was at a library in Dayton Ohio that had a sign out front that said it had to cut back its hours due to funding cuts. Really pathetic.

      Kept thinking how the library system should be targeting the Wall Street fat cats asking them for donations to keep normal library hours

  17. freepatriot says:

    liberries is teh source of all socialism

    look at y’all, discussin books n stuff on saturday, during the high holy football season

    what will we tell teh chilruns

    (ducking & running)

    If ya got “overdue” fees at the library, you don’t really have to worry about it, do I ???

  18. Palli says:

    Bet some people don’t know that government business like Unemployment Compensation is exclusively conducted on-line now. In Ohio, weekly registration for benefits has to occur on Sunday before the new workweek begins and the last one is over.
    Libraries are the only free computers in most towns. Cut back on library funds for open hours and computer acquisition, staff and IT expenses and you have disadvantaged not just the kid who doesn’t have a home computer for homework but the parents too.

    • Leen says:

      At the NN09 conference I was talking with some privileged 30/40 somethings and they were having a hard time considering what I was sharing with them that over 50% of the kids and families in Appalachia do not have computers at home or access to computers on a daily basis.

      They were perplexed

  19. greenharper says:

    Sort of OT. The largest public library in our town of Amherst, MA, has had to shut down on Friday afternoons this fiscal year due to budget cuts. To reopen on Friday afternoons from now through next June would take around $10,000.

    A library-loving resident gave a $3,000 challenge grant to prod the library trustees into raising money to reopen. The owner of an Irish pub (Harpo at The Harp in Amherst) offered to throw a benefit barbecue today to raise the matching $3,000.

    Also this weekend, another library patron put up an anonymous $1,000 challenge grant. By the end of the barbecue today, library patrons had exceeded both challenges by enough to reopen on Friday afternoons through next June.

    The public’s support for the public libraries is really heartening. Guys from Alpha Tau Gamma fraternity at the Stockbridge School (agriculture), UMass Amherst, set up the huge tent and constructed the stage. Three bands pitched in for the entertainment. The head of the Stockbridge School and a member of the Amherst Select Board tended the grill all afternoon.

    Now if we could just raise more than $70,000 to make up what we had to cut out of the FY 2010 acquisitions budget….

    I’d hate to think that librarians have become targets for their defense of civil liberties in the face of the so-called PATRIOT Act. But how could anyone at this point rule it out?

    Thanks for the heads up on this dastardly proposed legislation. I’m disappointed in Leahy, of all people.

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