Congress enacted the USA Patriot Act after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Act significantly expanded the federal government’s surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities. One of the new tools at the Government’s disposal is a National Security Letter (NSL). An NSL is an administrative subpoena that allows the FBI to demand personal records from organizations without prior court approval and prohibits disclosure by the recipient. In 2006, in the town of Windsor, CT, librarians found themselves on the receiving end of an NSL for patrons’ records. Rather than meekly submitting to the gag order, they sued the Government. Libraries across the country began to engage in acts of civil disobedience. Notices were posted warning patrons that their search histories, passwords, and emails could be subject to FBI surveillance, and documents with personal identifying information were shredded. Signs appeared daily on library doors telling patrons which organizations had visited the library.
The American Library Association (ALA) publicly opposed parts of the Act. Believing that they violated the library community’s long-standing commitment to privacy and freedom of access to information, it adopted a resolution calling certain sections of the Act “a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.” The ALA urged “all libraries to adopt and implement patron privacy and record retention policies that affirm that ‘the collection of personally identifiable information should only be a matter of routine or policy when necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of the library.” State and local libraries followed suit, enacting their own resolutions or endorsing the ALAs.
- Read American Library Association (ALA) resolution.
- Consider and discuss how moral autonomy in public organizations might apply. What would you have done in the librarians’ shoes?
Review the information in National Immigration Forum. (2018, August 21). Fact sheet: Immigrants and public benefits.Using the 5-stage roadmap for making ethical decisions found in Chapter 5 of your textbook and wearing your public administrator’s hat, how would you address the issue of providing public-assistance benefits to undocumented persons?
Read U.S. Office of Government Ethics. (n.d.). Standards of ethical conduct: Summary for executive branch employees.
- Provide an example from a current event where a public administrator or official failed to meet one or more of the seven standards.
- Explain the magnitude of the failure and the impact on the organization.
- What was the outcome, and do you think that “the punishment fit the crime?”
2002-2003 CD # 20.1
2003 ALA Midwinter Meeting
RESOLUTION ON THE USA PATRIOT ACT AND RELATED MEASURES
THAT INFRINGE ON THE RIGHTS OF LIBRARY USERS
WHEREAS, The American Library Association affirms the responsibility of the leaders
of the United States to protect and preserve the freedoms that are the foundation of our
WHEREAS, Libraries are a critical force for promoting the free flow and unimpeded
distribution of knowledge and information for individuals, institutions, and communities;
WHEREAS, The American Library Association holds that suppression of ideas
undermines a democratic society; and
WHEREAS, Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free
association; and, in a library, the subject of users’ interests should not be examined or
scrutinized by others; and
WHEREAS, Certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, the revised Attorney
General Guidelines to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other related measures
expand the authority of the federal government to investigate citizens and non-citizens, to
engage in surveillance, and to threaten civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the
United States Constitution and Bill of Rights; and
WHEREAS, The USA PATRIOT Act and other recently enacted laws, regulations, and
guidelines increase the likelihood that the activities of library users, including their use of
computers to browse the Web or access e-mail, may be under government surveillance
without their knowledge or consent; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association opposes any use of governmental
power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to
intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association encourages all librarians, library
administrators, library governing bodies, and library advocates to educate their users,
staff, and communities about the process for compliance with the USA PATRIOT Act
and other related measures and about the dangers to individual privacy and the
confidentiality of library records resulting from those measures; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association urges librarians everywhere to
defend and support user privacy and free and open access to knowledge and information;
and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association will work with other
organizations, as appropriate, to protect the rights of inquiry and free expression; and, be
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association will take actions as appropriate to
obtain and publicize information about the surveillance of libraries and library users by
law enforcement agencies and to assess the impact on library users and their
communities; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association urges all libraries to adopt and
implement patron privacy and record retention policies that affirm that “the collection of
personally identifiable information should only be a matter of routine or policy when
necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of the library” (ALA Privacy: An
Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights); and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association considers sections of the USA
PATRIOT Act are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of
library users and urges the United States Congress to:
1) provide active oversight of the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act and other
related measures, and the revised Attorney General Guidelines to the Federal
Bureau of Investigation;
2) hold hearings to determine the extent of the surveillance on library users and their
3) amend or change the sections of these laws and the guidelines that threaten or
abridge the rights of inquiry and free expression; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That this resolution be forwarded to the President of the United States, to
the Attorney General of the United States, to Members of both Houses of Congress, to
the library community, and to others as appropriate.
Adopted by the ALA Council, January 29, 2003
Initiated by: Committee on Legislation
Cosponsored by: Committee on Legislation and Intellectual Freedom Committee
Endorsed by: OITP Advisory Committee, LITA
Endorsed in principle by: ACRL, ALTA Executive Board, ALSC, ASCLA, AASL Legislation
Committee, Intellectual Freedom Round Table
Prior History: CD#19.1 January 2002, CD#20.5 January 2002, CD#20.3 January 2002