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IFLA Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression

Libraries are for democracy not surveillance

05 June 2003
The Hague, Netherlands

"In order to win the war against terrorism, we need to reinforce the democratic ideal",
said the Chair of the IFLA/FAIFE Committee, Mr. Alex Byrne.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) expresses its strong concern at the use of libraries for surveillance in the United States of America as reported by the Justice Department.

On May 20, 2003, Mr Viet Dinh, an assistant United States Attorney General, testified before Congress, reporting on the Department of Justice's use of its new powers under the USA PATRIOT Act. Asked about the use of the USA PATRIOT Act powers in libraries, he told Congress that any information on library contacts in the course of national security investigations would be provided to Congress in a classified format.

Details of the contacts with libraries are difficult to obtain because of the secrecy provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act which makes it an offence for the librarian to disclose any information concerning a contact or visit. However, the results of an independent study sponsored by the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois' Graduate School of Library Science indicate that over 10% of the large public libraries responding to the study have been approached by the FBI or other law enforcement authorities since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Whatever the number, this surveillance activity is of the greatest concern to IFLA because it undermines the purpose of libraries. Libraries are democratic institutions that offer unrestricted access to information to all. They provide a safe, supported and rich environment for people to pursue their interests including study, work, hobbies and general inquiry. These activities are essential to a free society because they enable all people to enlighten themselves and to act as informed citizens in the democratic process.

The threat of covert monitoring is intimidating to library clients and can inhibit library use, especially among those who have suffered under authoritarian regimes. IFLA is disappointed that its concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act and the 2002 guidelines issued by the Attorney General have been justified. IFLA supports initiatives taken by the American library community to protect the privacy of their clients.

IFLA calls on the United States Government and the Congress to respect the role of libraries as democratic institutions and to amend the USA PATRIOT Act to safeguard civil liberties and freedom of access to information. The Chair of the IFLA/FAIFE Committee, Mr. Alex Byrne, said:

"In order to win the war against terrorism, we need to reinforce the democratic ideal. All democracies must demonstrate their tolerance of diversity and value for the individual. We must reject the mechanisms of the police state. Our strength lies in our openness and is demonstrated through our free and independent libraries."

- ENDS -


The Free Expression Policy Project
Terrorism, the Internet and Free Access to Information (04 October 2001)
IFLA Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE)


    IFLA is an independent, international, non-governmental organisation representing the interest of libraries, librarians and the users of libraries worldwide. Founded in 1927, it now has members in over 150 countries, representing hundreds of thousand of library and information staff. IFLA is accredited by a number of United Nations agencies, including UNESCO with whom it enjoys Formal Associate Relations.

    FAIFE - an IFLA Core Activity

    FAIFE is an initiative within IFLA to defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    The FAIFE Committee and Office further freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in all aspects, directly or indirectly, related library and information services.

    FAIFE monitors the state of intellectual freedom within the library and information community worldwide, supports IFLA policy development and cooperation with other international human rights organisations, and responds to violations of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression.

Contact information

Mr Alex Byrne
IFLA Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression
Sydney, Australia.
Tel: +61 2 9514 3332, Fax: + 61 2 9514 3331.
Email: alex.byrne@uts.edu.au

Mr Ross Shimmon
Secretary General
International Federations of Library Associations and Institutions
The Hague, Netherlands.
Tel: +31 70 3140884 Fax: +31 70 3834827
Email: ross.shimmon@ifla.org

Ms Susanne Seidelin
Copenhagen, Denmark.
Tel: +45 3258 6066 ext 532, or +45 32 58 70 77 dial 532, Fax: +45 32 84 02 01.
Email: susanne.seidelin@ifla.org or sus@db.dk

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