December 6, 2013

The American Library Association defends “freedom to read and research” from NSA surveillance


The ALA is fighting back against the NSA.

The ALA is fighting back against the NSA.

The American Library Association is supporting legislation from Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), known as the USA Freedom Act, that would limit the powers of the NSA surveillance program.

The documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrated the organization was collecting metadata on internet activity, an area that is particularly of concern to libraries, who keep records on patrons’ computer use and book circulation. The Hill spoke to Alan Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the ALA:

“You need to have some freedom to learn about what you think is important without worrying about whether it ends up in some FBI file…We don’t want [library patrons] being surveilled because that will inhibit learning, and reading, and creativity.”

The ALA has been concerned about library patrons’ privacy violations since the PATRIOT Act was passed over a decade ago. And in an open letter to members in July, ALA  President Barbara Stripling wrote:

“Even the most cynical among us could not have predicted that the Obama Administration… would allow a massive surveillance program to infringe upon the basic civil liberties of innocent, unsuspecting people.”

Advocacy and lobbying efforts on behalf of libraries have increased in Washington ever since the ALA received a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.