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Librarians Who Won’t be “Shushed” Visit MT

April 11, 2008

Billings, MT – A pair of Connecticut librarians who refused to be "shushed" are in Montana sharing their stories of fighting back against government prying into people's reading habits.

They were the first to refuse to comply after being served by the FBI with a so-called National Security Letter ordering them to hand over personal information about library patrons. Such letters are allowed under the Patriot Act. They are used to force libraries, bookstores, internet providers, banks and other institutions to provide this information without the knowledge of those under inquiry. Recipients of such letters are permanently forbidden to talk about it, under threat of prison.

Connecticut librarian Peter Chase says he and three others at work decided the request and gag order were wrong, so they went to court--and won. Chase says the public needs to know that government spying into personal information goes on without oversight from a judge or a court.

"If it were a criminal investigation, we'd all say, 'more power to 'em,' but these are not criminal investigations. And that is the biggest deception, I think."

Chase says about 150,000 National Security Letters have been served on libraries, bookstores, banks, internet companies, even churches. The Bush administration says the letters are needed to fight terrorism. The American Civil Liberties Union maintains that the letters are unconstitutional.

Chase will speak in Billings Saturday on his ordeal with the FBI. He'll be joined by George Christian, a fellow Connecticut librarian who challenged the government.

Chase says people who receive the letters live in fear, knowing that if they speak about them, they could get five years in prison. He says that's not the America we all know, and it's time for those affected to take action.

"If there are others out there within the sound of my voice, I would urge them to contact a lawyer for legal advice and fight it."

Peter Chase and George Christian are speaking at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Montana State University Arts Building Lecture Hall, Room 148, Billings.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MT