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Celebrate Cognitive Liberty
and the Freedom to Read:

Banned Books Week and the CCLE’s Readers’ Rights Project

In conjunction with the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual Banned Books Week, the Center for Cognitive Liberty is launching its Readers’ Rights Project.

This year’s Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Freedom to Read—is the twenty-first anniversary of the ALA’s annual celebration of intellectual freedom. Events and read-outs will be held nationwide to raise awareness about censorship and the right to access books. As Judith Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, says, “The ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely are core American values.” 

Through the Readers' Rights Project, the CCLE intends to examine library surveillance as an obstacle to cognitive liberty, and focus law, policy and educational attention on the fundamental rights of readers to freely access information.

As part of this project, the CCLE is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this week with the US Dept. of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI. The FOIA request asks for a list of books and materials placed under scrutiny as grounds for surveillance, policy directives regarding library surveillance under the PATRIOT act, and the number of times that the FBI and DOJ have sought records from libraries since the passage of the act. This request may provide much-needed public information about the nature and extent of law enforcement activities in libraries across the US.

The Readers’ Rights project will also work to protect cognitive liberty by:

  • Analyzing the legal rights of readers under the USA Patriot Act, and produce an informative pamphlet explaining the terms of the USA Patriot Act regarding library surveillance and the rights readers may have;
     
  • Raising public awareness of reader’s rights through dissemination of information at local and regional libraries; 
     
  • Drawing media attention to the larger implications of surveillance on individual public library users;
     
  • Continuing to collaborate with other organizations (such as the ALA) who have an interest in First Amendment rights and civil liberties of readers in general, and public library users specifically.

Intellectual freedom is a cherished right at any time, but recent events have underscored its importance. The passage of the USA PATRIOT act on October 25, 2001 has many implications for intellectual freedom, the right to privacy and other vital civil liberties.

Despite the fact that the library records and Internet logs of several September 11th hijackers were successfully recovered from several libraries under existing law, the USA PATRIOT gave broad new powers to FBI officers wanting to pry into the records of library patrons. Though direct banning of books is prevented by the First Amendment, library surveillance circumvents constitutional protections. It produces a climate of fear and suspicion that turns readers into suspects; the scrutiny of law enforcement corrodes free access and intellectual inquiry when readers are hesitant to check out certain books or look at certain Web sites for fear of investigation or arrest.

The PATRIOT act removes legal protection of “any tangible things” that an FBI officer claims are pertinent to an investigation of terrorist or intelligence activities. Librarians immediately recognized the threat this law would pose to maintaining confidentiality of library patrons’ reading records or computer usage logs. The Act also contains a “gag order” that prevents librarians from revealing that their patron records or library computers have been searched. Thus, the public has only recently learned that intensified federal monitoring of public libraries is in fact taking place across the country.

The CCLE believes that readers should have the unfettered right to access information without monitoring or control. After all, freedom to read, freedom to think, freedom to speak: what sort of country would this be without them?

Information and Resources:

CCLE Readers’ Rights Project: http://www.cognitiveliberty.org/proj_readers.html

CCLE Op-Ed on library surveillance, “Who’s Reading Over Your Shoulder” http://www.cognitiveliberty.org/News/library_surveillance.htm

American Library Association Web site: http://www.ala.org/

For more information on Banned Books Week, go to: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/  or e-mail oif@ala.org

ALA on Libraries and the USA Patriot act: http://www.ala.org/washoff/patriot.html

Coast Weekly Article on Cognitive Liberty and the Total Information Awareness Office

Alternet article on Total Information Awareness Office data mining and personal privacy