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Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Yes, the Thought Police are After Librarians Again

One of my consistent favorite sources for stories everyone should know about but which get little or no play in the mainstream US media is a skinny little print newsletter called The Washington Spectator. Just four pages per issue, but tremendous content. It’s also available online.

The current issue features a horror story of some Connecticut librarians who received one of the dreaded “national security letters”–FBI fishing expeditions with no safeguards, and severe penalties if the recipients make these letters known. But these folks fought back, got the ACLU involved, and eventually–no thanks to the courts, not even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned down the request. In this situation, the FBI itself lifted its own gag order for reasons not made clear in the article.

I actually did know about this awful law, and I remember when librarians banded together to fight it, and were assured by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft that it wasn’t going to be used against librarians.

Well, that isn’t exactly how it turned out.

While two FBI agents waited in Christian’s office, he read a paragraph of his national security letter, which cited a statute and certified that the information the agent requested was “relevant to an authorized investigation against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, and that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Christian had never heard of a national security letter. By his calendar the date was July 8; the letter was dated May 19. Almost a week had passed since the FBI had called his office. “This didn’t look like the FBI was in hot pursuit of anyone,” Christian said. The letter wasn’t addressed to him, but to the employee the FBI initially contacted. Its third paragraph prohibited the recipient from “disclosing to any person that the FBI has sought or obtained access or information to records under these provisions.”

“I told the agent I didn’t think the statute was constitutional,” he said. “And that I was going to discuss it with my attorney.”

Every freedom-loving American ought to be deeply concerned about the potential for abuses of power under this little-known provision of the Patriot Act. This is, after all, supposed to be a democracy.


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