The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) and American Library Association (ALA) on Thursday joined with booksellers, international, and research librarians to file an amicus brief defending their ability – and the ability of similar organizations – to challenge on behalf of their users government actions that burden readers’ First Amendment rights. The amicus brief was filed in support of the plaintiffs in Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and a broad coalition of educational, human rights, legal, and media organizations. It challenges the National Security Agency’s “Upstream” surveillance program. According to NSA, the “Upstream” surveillance program involves copying Internet traffic—including e-mails, chat, web browsing and other communications—as the data traverses the fiber optic backbone of the Internet.
This means that the NSA is looking over every reader’s shoulder while they’re online and compromising the privacy of every library user and bookstore patron who searches a library’s or bookseller’s online catalog, obtains an e-book, or consults online databases and journals for research, and deterring individuals from exercising their First Amendment right to obtain and read materials that are controversial or reflect deeply private concerns.
The amicus brief, written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of the library and bookseller organizations, explains the importance of privacy to the unfettered exercise of First Amendment rights and argues that libraries, booksellers, and similar organizations can assert the rights of their users related to privacy concerns associated with government access to, and surveillance of, users’ reading habits. It further emphasizes the chill on First Amendment rights that results when the government has unrestricted access to the records of what users read and view online.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides more information on their website, and the full brief can be read online at this link. The ACLU has full details about Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA on its website, linked here. Other parties in the brief include the American Booksellers Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.