By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
Four Connecticut librarians who had been barred from revealing that they had received a request for patrons’ records from the federal government spoke out yesterday, expressing frustration about the sweeping powers given to law enforcement authorities by the USA Patriot Act.
The librarians took turns at the microphone at their lawyers’ office and publicly identified themselves as the collective John Doe who had sued the United States attorney general after their organization received a confidential demand for patron records in a secret counterterrorism case. They had been ordered, under the threat of prosecution, not to talk about the request with anyone. The librarians, who all have leadership roles at a small consortium called Library Connection in Windsor, Conn., said they opposed allowing the government unchecked power to demand library records and were particularly incensed at having been subject to the open-ended nondisclosure order.
“I’m John Doe, and if I had told you before today that the F.B.I. was requesting library records, I could have gone to jail,” said one of the four, Peter Chase, a librarian from Plainville who is on the executive committee of Library Connection’s board.
The organization won part of its court fight last week, when a three-judge panel of the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan dismissed the government’s appeal and allowed a lower court judge’s revocation of the nondisclosure order to stand. But the four librarians say they remain concerned that other provisions of the Patriot Act could deter people from using libraries.