OUR POLICE STATE: Gag order on Connecticut librarians lifted


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Four Connecticut Librarians Shed John Doe Gag

³I am relieved that a federal court has at long last lifted a Patriot Act gag 
order and allowed me to acknowledge that I am the recipient of a National 
Security Letter [NSL] on behalf of my organization, Library Connection,² 
asserted Executive Director George Christian at a May 30 press conference at the
New York City headquarters of the American Civil Liberties Union. The statement 
ended months of speculation that the Library Connection‹a nonprofit consortium 
of 27 public and academic libraries in central Connecticut‹is the John Doe 
plaintiff in Doe v. Gonzales. Christian was joined by fellow ³Doe² plaintiffs 
Barbara Bailey, Library Connection board president and director of the 
Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury; Vice-president Peter Chase, 
director of the Plainville Public Library; and Secretary Janet Nocek, Portland 
Library director.

³Until this point, I never thought about what it would be like to have the right
to speak freely taken away,² said Nocek, noting that the gag order meant ³we 
were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.² According to the 
plaintiffs¹ original complaint, which is available in redacted form on the ACLU 
website, the FBI agent assigned to serving the NSL instructed a Library 
Connection official to have his attorney call the agent when the librarian 
indicated a desire to consult a lawyer.

Chase told of his frustration at receiving the NSL even as ³the government was 
telling Congress that it didn¹t use the Patriot Act against libraries and that 
no one¹s rights had been violated. I felt that I just could not be part of this 
fraud being foisted on our nation. We had to defend our patrons and ourselves, 
and so, represented by the ACLU, we filed a lawsuit challenging the government¹s
power to demand these records without a court order.²

³Because of the gag,² Bailey said, ³the government would not even allow us to 
attend the hearing in our case anonymously.² Instead, the four ³Does² watched 
the Bridgeport court proceedings in August 2005 on closed-circuit television in 
the Hartford federal building. Ultimately, she added, ³Due to some sloppy 
redacting on the government¹s part, our identity was eventually revealed to 
those who took the time to plow through the court briefs.²

The result proved even more awkward: The Justice Department remained adamant 
that the gag order was still in effect for national security reasons‹a position 
DOJ attorneys maintained until after President Bush signed into law the 
reauthorized Patriot Act, which eases some of the original restrictions. In the 
meantime, Bailey had declined to accept the Connecticut Library Association¹s 
intellectual freedom award on behalf of John Doe, and Chase, who chairs CLA¹s 
Intellectual Freedom Committee, turned down numerous invitations to speak about 
the Patriot Act lest he ³inadvertently reveal that I was a John Doe.² In one 
case, Chase refused to debate federal attorney Kevin O¹Connor, whom Chase 
described as ³traveling 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.²

The press conference, which was held four days after a federal appeals court 
declared the gag order moot, may be the first of many public appearances for the
four. The board¹s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of using an NSL to 
obtain library records has yet to be heard. ³We are in the process of discussing
how to proceed from here with our attorneys at the ACLU,² Christian told 
American Libraries, explaining that the group could not address any specifics 
because ³we have only been ungagged to the extent that we can claim we received 
the NSL.²

Posted June 2, 2006.

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