CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) has adopted a resolution urging Congress to extend legal protections for whistle-blowers to employees of all national security and intelligence agencies, as well as non-federal employees working for civilian contractors.
Passed by the ALA Council at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Philadelphia, the resolution calls not only for Congress to amend the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 to extend those protections; it also urges Congress to establish a secure procedure by which all federal employees, as well as non-federal employees working for civilian contractors, may safely share evidence of fraud, waste or abuse with the appropriate oversight committees of Congress — as well as the press and the American people — while protected by legally enforceable rights against retaliation or prosecution.
In addition, the resolution commends the courage and perseverance of federal employees, and non-federal employees working as contractors, who risk their livelihoods, their reputations and their liberty to expose evidence of government fraud, waste or abuse.
The ALA is concerned about due process and protection for such persons. It also values access to documents disclosing the extent of public surveillance and government secrecy, since access to these documents enables the critical public discourse and debate necessary to redress the balance between our civil liberties and national security. Such disclosures enable libraries to support discourse and debate by providing resources for deliberative dialogue and community engagement.
The resolution affirms that public access to information by and about the government is essential for the healthy functioning of a democratic society and is a necessary prerequisite for an informed and engaged citizenry empowered to hold their government accountable for its actions.
In 2003, the ALA cautioned that the USA Patriot Act and related laws, regulations and guidelines would “increase the likelihood that the activity of library users, including their use of computers to browse the Web or access email, may be under government surveillance without their knowledge or consent.” Since then, it has been revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the telephone call metadata of millions of consumers of Verizon Business Services, AT&T and Sprint, pursuant to orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Services Court (FISC) under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.
In 2004, the ALA affirmed its “support for accountable government and the role of whistle-blowers in reporting abuse, fraud and waste in governmental activities.” And in 2011, it urged “Congress to pass legislation that expands protections for whistle-blowers in the federal government,” while also urging “the U.S. President, Congress, the federal courts, and executive and legislative agencies to defend the inalienable right of the press and citizens to disseminate information to the public about national security issues and to refrain from initiatives that impair these rights.”
However, while noting that Presidential Policy Directive 19 on Oct. 10, 2012 prohibits retaliatory actions against federal employees in intelligence agencies, the resolution states that it limits such protected communications to superiors within their agency’s chain of command and relevant Offices of Inspector General and is exclusively enforced on the administrative level by the intelligence community targeted in a whistle-blower’s disclosure and does not include judicial review of administrative rulings.
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.