CHICAGO – "John Doe," also k nown as George Christian, Peter Chase, Barbara Bailey and Jan Nocek, is the 2007 recipient of the American Library Association (ALA) Paul Howard Award for Courage. The $1,000 bi-annual award and citation honors a librarian, library board, library group or an individual who has exhibited unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.
The award will be presented at the Award Reception and Ceremony, Tuesday, June 26, during the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC.
The four are being recognized for their challenge to the National Security Letter and gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. George Christian is the executive director of the Library Connection, Inc., a nonprofit consortium of 27 libraries in Connecticut. Peter Chase is vice president of the Library Connection, Inc., director of the Plainville (Conn.) Public Library and chairman of the Connecticut Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Barbara Bailey is president of the Library Connection, Inc. and director of the Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury, Conn. Jan Nocek is the secretary of the Library Connection, Inc. and library director of the Portland (Conn.) Library.
In 2005, Library Connection received a National Security Letter (NSL) from the FBI, along with its accompanying perpetual gag order, demanding library patrons’ records. Christian and the three members of the Executive Committee of the board engaged the ACLU to file suit to challenge the constitutional validity of the NSL. Because section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand records without prior court approval, also forbids, or "gags," anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone else about receiving it, they also challenged the validity of the gag order.
For almost a year the ACLU fought to lift the gag order, challenging the government’s power under Section 505 to silence four citizens who wished to contribute to public debate on the PATRIOT Act. In May 2006, the government finally gave up its legal battle to maintain the gag order. On June 26, 2006, the ACLU announced that, after dropping its defense of the gag provision accompanying the NSL request, the FBI abandoned the lawsuit entirely.
In his testimony on April 11, 2007 before a Senate Subcommittee, Christian spoke on behalf of himself and three others,, who had come to be known as The Connecticut four. "Ours is a cautionary story that we hope will provoke serious thought. Though our gag order was lifted, several hundred thousand other recipients of National Security Letters must carry the secret of their experience with NSLs to their graves," Christian remarked in his opening statement and further added, "When the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law, our Connecticut library community, like the American Library Association and many other librarians, were concerned about the lack of judicial oversight as well as the secrecy associated with a number of the Act's provisions and the NSL in particular."
Christian asked Congress "to take special note of the uses and abuses of NSLs in libraries and bookstores and other places where higher First Amendment standards should be considered" and "to reconsider parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and in particular, the NSL powers that can needlessly subject innocent people to fishing expeditions of their personal information with no judicial review."
In 2006, The Connecticut Four received the Connecticut Library Association's Outstanding Librarian award as "John Doe" for their challenge to the USA PATRIOT Act. In 2007, that award was given again to them individually, now that their identities can be made public.
"Throughout their ordeal the John Does fought for basic library principles, in particular a library user’s right to confidentiality," said jury chair Li Chen. "The John Does protected a fundamental constitutional issue at great personal and emotional expense with the real threat of criminal proceedings hanging over them. It was this act of courage that led the John Does to become champions not only for library service in the post–9/11 era, but also for democracy in the United States."
Members of the 2007 Paul Howard Award for Courage jury committee are: Li Chen, chair, Southern Polytechnic State University Library, Marietta, Ga.; Sandra J. Ruoff, Guilford Free Library , Guilford, Conn.; Dottie Hiebing, Metropolitan New York Library Council, New York, N.Y.; Samantha Schmehl Hines, University of Montana, Missoula.
The deadline for submission of applications for the 2009 Paul Howard Award is December 1, 2008. Guidelines and application forms are available at http://www.ala.org/ala/awardsbucket/howardaward/howardaward.htm .