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government censorship

The Library of Congress has blocked access on all of its computers to Wikileaks.  This action was taken, according to the Library of Congress blog, in direct response to a memo from the White House Executive Branch.  According to a New York Times article, the White House has since said that it issued no such directives to block Wikileaks in any government agency.  I am unconcerned with the “he said, she said” childish finger pointing of the different arms of government.  I don’t care who said what to whom in a memo, an email, or in a hallway conversation.

I am, however, gravely concerned that the leading library of the United States has willfully and arbitrarily blocked access to information.  Blocking access to information, any information, is censorship. This action is unconscionable.

I condemn the Library of Congress action in every way, and like others I fully reject their attempt at justifications or defenses of their action.  There is never a justification for blocking access to information in a library — never.

The Library of Congress’s decision is a violation of the First Amendment and a violation of the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights.  Moreover, it is a violation of the professional ethics of librarians to always provide free access to all information.  The Librarian of Congress has violated our ethics knowingly.  I am horrified.

The documents leaked on Wikileaks have been posted on the free and open web for some time now, and are therefore pieces of open and free information on the web, as is all other information in the United States.  These documents are not illegal.  So why, pray tell, does anyone have the right to block access to them in a federal government institution?

In this case particularly, access to this information is even more critical to the continued success of an open democracy.  The documents contained in the Wikileaks collections often expose the federal government’s dereliction of duty, incompetence, poor judgment, and even criminal actions.  Exposing our government’s actions is a matter of concern for every single citizen.  Is this not a golden case study for why we need freedom of information in a democracy?  Is it not a golden opportunity for the Librarian of Congress to stand firm with his professional ethics, and say “Hell no, I won’t block access to information!” ?

Interestingly, there is already a functional problem with this decision for the Congressional Research Service within the Library of  Congress.  The CRS researches government and public information to inform lawmakers of current important issues.  The CRS will now be unable to access Wikileaks to include the leaked material’s primary content in their reports to Congress.  So now Congress won’t know what’s in Wikileaks?  Oh yeah, that’s good for democracy.

The Progressive Librarians Guild has called for formal condemnation from the American Library Association.  I second that motion.  From the PLG’s post:

We call on the American Library Association (ALA) to condemn unequivocally this move by the Library of Congress to actively conspire in preventing access to information in the public interest. Blocking access to this published information is censorship, plain and simple, and supporting sanctions against reading is endorsing abridgment of intellectual freedom. The documentation’s open publication by an agency of the free press, Wikileaks, renders its government classification status irrelevant.

It would seem that someone was more concerned about saving his relationships with politicians than he was about upholding Constitutional rights and his professional ethics.  This is a deeply disturbing precedent and an affront to all librarians everywhere.

The Library of Congress should be ashamed of its action of pure censorship, reverse the block immediately, and be censured by the American Library Association for malfeasance.   I also encourage President Obama’s administration to get involved in the fray immediately.  If Obama is still “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” as stated in 2009, then this is a perfect opportunity to re-emphasize that commitment.

“Censorship is censorship, especially when it’s the Library of Congress”

  1. Tweets that mention Censorship is censorship, especially when it’s the Library of Congress | Librarian in Black Blog – Sarah Houghton-Jan -- Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by WPL Reference Div and Brett Williams, Sara Renwick. Sara Renwick said: Censorship is censorship, especially when it's the Library of Congress – Reports that LoC blocked access to Wikileaks [...]

  2. Paul Signorelli Says:

    Eloquently stated; sign me up.

  3. Malin Says:

    So they should allow children porn in LoC too? After all, it’s information and as you said, “blocking access to information, any information, is censorship”…

  4. rwy Says:

    Fact is that secrets are hard to keep.Cork out of the bottle. post-it-all 1-to:world. Technology is a thread, it always was.. it always was unstoppable.
    Maybe this technological evolution is a good thing. CrCrises and the cable gate shows government is not so much in control of the global society. We need proper steering mechanism to survive the global society we created with technology. Whould we have gone to Iraq over Weapons of mass destruction is we were part of the diplomatic cable discussion ? Will reading the cables prevent us from another stupid global decision based upon wrong leader ego’s/shortvision ? Probably our global society is in the long run better of with more transparency. Shutting down the discussion/web is not an option. Its like banning books.
    You hackers made a point. You don’t need to be a stupid suicide soldier. The Press is really slow, on the core discussion julian asks for. Give the world some time to adapt and don,t spread AE21 files anymore. Showing military facilities is bad. Responsibility starts with yourself.

  5. Library of Congress | BiblioPluis Says:

    [...] Censorship is censorship, especially when it’s the Library of Congress ( Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Library of Congress Preserves Your Precious TweetsCelebrate National Library Week!Library of Congress adds Rumble This entry was posted in National Libraries and Web 2.0 and tagged Facebook, Flickr, Library, Library of Congress, Podcast, Twitter, Web 2.0, Webcast, Wikileaks, YouTube. Bookmark the permalink. ← Library and Archives Canada National Archives of Australia → LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  6. Michael Steeleworthy Says:

    I see this issue as a matter of clashed principles – the openness of a library versus LOC’s mission to serve Congress and its status as a government apparatus. i.e., As an agent of government it can’t break the law. So, to a certain degree, I sympathize with the people running the show at LOC: I’m sure there must be a few librarians there whose own professional ethics have clashed with this directive.

    What really bothers me, though, is that this action makes government (let alone LOC) look like the stork sticking its head in the sand. However “confidential” the cables that have been made public in the Wikileaks controversy are, they now are a matter of public record, and to be sure, are being analyzed by tens of thousands of Americans on one level or another. But so long as they are not collected or accessed by LOC, then Congress, through CRS, is unable to research and report for themselves on what is of interest to their constituents and to the nation. It’s like the State Dept believes there is only one record of history out there and it’s the government record and that the public record is of little value. And that’s where we all lose, because the public voice has been diminished on account of a government action to ostensibly save face..

  7. se Says:

    Maybe a good thing …. We NEED proper steering mechanism to survive the global society we created with technology. Transparancy/involvism is needed. It’s urgend, at this moment our society has an obsolete 200 years old steering mechanism. How can a few wise people understand these complex global issues pending ? Would we have gone to Iraq over Weapons of mass destruction is we were part of the diplomatic cable discussion ?
    Better of with more transparency ?

  8. Stephanie Says:

    Perfectly said! Thank you!

  9. Steven in San Diego Says:

    Oh. Hell. No!!!!

  10. Allison Says:

    Agreed. There is no excuse for the Library of Congress’ position on this one.

  11. greg Says:

    Well said, Sarah! No matter what one thinks of anything that WikiLeaks has done, it is certain that the Library of Congress’ decision to block any site at all is inexcusable.

  12. David Says:

    LiB, I love you, but I have to disagree on principle if not on the point at hand. The same ALA party line that says “always provide free access to all information” would also deny access to circulation records in the name of patron privacy, and probably all of us agree with that as a necessary exception. Is freedom of information the only moral high ground, ever? That said, I think it is pretty silly for LC to lock the barn after the horse is stolen, especially since it can only lock one of a thousand doors in the first place.

  13. JR Says:

    The reason the government blocked the information is that the information is classified SECRET (all-caps verbatim from gov’t classification handbooks) and is known to come from a source marked SECRET. Federal employees can lose their jobs for mishandling classified information, or transferring known-classified information to unclassified computer systems. A leak does not declassify the information — so, for example, if I knew some of the information (let’s say Iraqi oil contract kickbacks) from the cables was classified, but I had also seen it in the New York Times sourced to something other than the cables, I could say “I can’t comment on my official knowledge of the situation, but the NYT cited source XYZ, and they estimate that Iraq will get $8M in contract kickbacks this year.”

    I would not be allowed to say “Well you can go look it up on Wikileaks and see everything I’ve seen,” and I would absolutely not be allowed to furnish you with a copy of the Wikileaks data once I knew it was marked SECRET.

    Once you understand that classified information is a form of privileged/private communication, akin to HIPAA records or lawyer-client privileged conversations, you might begin to understand why the U.S. Government is blocking access to it. The part that is unusual is that it is a privileged conversation between two arms of the State. When access to private information is blocked by private entities like hospitals it seems fair and just; it’s harder to understand why the State can claim the same privilege, but it can and does.

  14. I'm a super Says:

    You went trouble trouble talk about the Constitution, and yet you repeatedly called our government a Democracy. While I agree with your main point, People have got to start getting these things right. We are a Republic.

  15. Rick Says:

    One of the problems that this block could be solving is that being a government institution they cannot allow still classified documents to enter their unclassified computers and systems. Just because the information is out on the internet does not remove the classification.

    While I agree that libraries should allow free access, having the potential of a system being confiscated and all data on that system being wiped due to some user going to the site is a high price for that freedom.

    Sometimes these decision to block may not be that they don’t want users to view the material but the consequences of that material being viewed on their systems.

  16. Christopher Says:

    Just a thought: “all information” is absurdly broad. Circulation records? Individual voting records? Medical records? Troop movements in war? Military codes? Nuclear launch passwords? Individual browsing histories? Social security numbers? Credit scores? Kiddie porn?

    I mean, I certainly support the idea that libraries should maximize access to information so long as they simultaneously attempt to minimize harm. There is a balance to be struck, but “all information all the time” is a little ridiculous. This Wikileaks issue is a contentious one: there is a fair argument, even if I personally disagree, that these secret documents constitute legitimate government secrets and shouldn’t be openly disclosed. And “the cat is out of the bag” isn’t exactly the strongest argument to refrain from restricting access to them by any legal means. There are good arguments to support the open distribution of the Wikileaks files, but I don’t think you’ve made one here.

  17. WikiLeaks a sprawa biblioteczna | Says:

    [...] o podob­nym tonie możemy prze­czy­tać na blogu Libra­rian in Black, gdzie autorka potę­pia decy­zję i wręcz oskarża Biblio­tekę Kon­gresu o łama­nie [...]

  18. WikiLeaks Update/Link-Dump | The Roof is on Phire Says:

    [...] his own micropayment service, Flattr. Champion of free speech and media freedom Library of Congress blocks access to WikiLeaks from all Congress [...]

  19. Simon Chamberlain Says:

    JR (#16) and also Rick (#18) have said it perfectly; the information may be ‘out there’ but it is not declassified. Therefore a government library really has to abide by confidentiality issues.

  20. Norwegian Library Associations Wikileaks Statement « Sustainable Libraries Says:

    [...] Censorship is censorship, especially when it’s the Library of Congress ( [...]

  21. Eerily familiar patterns | sukkerfri Says:

    [...] This is the first thing that came to mind reading of censorship in US libraries. [...]

  22. jolibrary Says:

    You know, Julian Assagne himself acknowledges there’s a time and a place for censorship:

    Daniel Ikenaga – Which information should be secret in your definition?

    Julian Assagne – We often hear this type of question. However, it is better to rephrase it as follows: “who should be forced by the state into keeping information of a particular type from the rest of the population?” The answer to this question is clearly not everyone in the world and nor should it be, we believe, all persons in a particular state. Rather, say, your doctor is responsible for keeping your medical records secret under most (but not all) circumstances.

  23. Wikileaks Basic Reading | Fascination Beach Says:

    [...] the Library of Congress | Librarian in Black Blog – Sarah Houghton-Jan.” Librarian in Black.… (Accessed December 18, 2010).Ingram, Mathew. 2010. “Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity: [...]

  24. Blackopsmods Says:

    Very nice. but the lack of exposure like this is sad :(

  25. Proyektor Mini Says:

    We depend on technology right? Every information is spread on the net. But if it’s secret then don’t write, tell, or record it. Then it won’t leak. Probably

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  27. The Free Speech Question: How Governments Are Reacting To Innocence of Muslims|Politifreak Says:

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