(WASHINGTON, DC) The American Library Association (ALA) today released the findings of a comprehensive survey demonstrating the significant impact on the public of federal law enforcement activity in America's libraries. Based on the survey findings, ALA believes that public anxiety and librarian concern over law enforcement activity in libraries is justified. Survey results indicate a total of at least 137 legally executed requests by federal and state/local law enforcement in both academic and public libraries have taken place since October, 2001-63 legally executed requests for records in public libraries and 74 legally executed requests in academic libraries.
ALA commissioned researchers to survey public and academic libraries to obtain information regarding the type of contact academic and public librarians have had with law enforcement agencies, and to obtain information about how the potential for law enforcement contact and contact itself has affected the management and operation of the public library. The project was funded by support from the John L. and James S. Knight Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation. The researchers developed a representative sample of more than 1,500 public libraries; 33% responded to the survey. Of the 4,008 academic libraries invited to participate in the survey, 22% responded.
Although most survey respondents indicated that their libraries have not been visited since October 2001 by either federal or state/local law enforcement officials, respondents did report 16 instances of requests for information from federal agencies and 47 instances when state/local law enforcement officials formally requested one or more types of records. Similar to public libraries, most academic libraries responding have not been presented with official legal orders from law enforcement since October 2001. For academic libraries, there were 33 instances of requests for information from federal agencies and 41 instances when state/local law enforcement officials requested one or more types of records.
"For over half a century, the American Library Association has actively sought to protect the freedom of Americans to read without a threat of surveillance as part of their First Amendment rights to free expression," said ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano. "This right to privacy of library patrons has been confirmed by 48 states that have laws that require a legal order to obtain library records. ALA believes the right to read freely is constitutionally guaranteed and seeks to protect it for the people we serve."
Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office added, "We now know with certainty that law enforcement is visiting libraries and asking for information on library patrons. We must ensure that the proper oversight is in place to ensure that the government doesn't conduct 'fishing expeditions' at America's libraries."
Almost 10 percent of academic library respondents and 40 percent of public library respondents indicated that patrons had inquired of library staff one or more times about policies or practices related to the PATRIOT Act.
"In light of the survey findings it is more important than ever that Congress work to amend the sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that allow the FBI easy access to library records," said Brey-Casiano. "I urge members of Congress to support the SAFE Act, currently pending in the House and Senate. This legislation curbs the overly broad powers allowed to law enforcement by the USA PATRIOT Act."