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American Library Association Comes Out Against CISPA; Why They Are Heroes

While there was a big outcry against SOPA that included protest from many well-known Internet giants like Wikipedia and Reddit, the backlash against CISPA hasn’t had quite as many champions. Some sites that came out against SOPA, like Facebook, are actually pro-CISPA for very self-interested but logical reasons. Along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), whose opposition to the bill is frankly no surprise, the American Library Association (ALA) has also come out against CISPA, and in doing so have suddenly become my heroes. Here’s why.

In a press release detailing the ALA’s opposition to the bill, ALA president Molly Raphael said the following:

“The ALA has long supported strong privacy protections as part of our community’s larger commitment to the First Amendment and civil liberties. We cannot stand by silently and let a federal law trump all of the federal and state laws that protect personal privacy. This is especially so when a bill like H.R. 3523 allows for an excessive amount of information that could be shared between the private sector and the government. We need balance between what our country must do for cybersecurity and the privacy values that we must protect.”

Right on! But the real fun starts when you actually look into the ALA’s long history of fighting to protect First Amendment rights and civil liberties. I don’t know if you were aware — I wasn’t — but the American Library Association is totally badass, and they have been for years.

The ALA is the real deal; devoted to promoting libraries and library education, this non-profit organization was founded way back in 1876 and currently represents over 60,000 members (both individuals and libraries), so it has some weight to throw around. Historically, it has used this weight for the respectable goal of fighting censorship and allowing equal access to libraries, and information at large, to all. In addition to discouraging the labeling of works as “subversive” — you have the ALA to thank for Banned Book Week — the ALA also has a history of progressive action in various civil rights movements, disallowing segregation in member libraries in 1961, and founding the first LGBT professional organization in 1970.

That’s all fine and dandy, but how have these presumably bookish folks adapted to the shift from physical to digital? Remarkably better than most — if not all — for-profit ventures that have been similarly threatened by the Internet. I’m looking at you, practically everyone else.

In the past 10 years or so, the ALA has quietly fought the good fight on many fronts. In 2003, the ALA came out in opposition to the USA PATRIOT act on the grounds that it presented dangers to the information privacy of library patrons. This was no empty declaration either. After being served with a National Security Letter strongly “requesting” information about library users, four Connecticut librarians filed suit until, ultimately, the Security Letter and its gag order were withdrawn. Sound at all familiar?

The ALA’s record on issues of copyright law are no less impressive. The ALA actively supports amendments to the DMCA, the extension of the public domain, increasing the breadth of what constitutes “fair use,” and even successfully sued the FCC to prevent the manditory inclusion of rights-management hardware in next-generation TVs. I think I’m in love.

It’s at this point that I feel like I have to admit that part of my newfound affection for the American Library Association probably has something to do with my own kind, but stereotypical idea of a librarian. If you don’t have an actual librarian in your life, you might feel the same way. A librarian is one of those nice ladies at school, or in the library of course, who helped you find that book you were looking for or couldn’t reach, who seemed to possess a genuine love of literature and learning, and though she might have aggressively shushed you on more than one occasion, deep down you knew you deserved it, and that she had your best interests in mind.

I’ll be the first to say that this is a wild, wild over-simplification, but there’s something intoxicating about imagining that same wildly over-simplified stereotype fighting valiantly for freedom of information, First Amendment rights, civil liberties, and transitioning so seamlessly from protecting rights in a physical realm to protecting them in a digital one. Granted, the ALA’s advocacy is nothing new, but it was entirely unknown to me, and I’ll bet it was to you as well. Maybe it’s not that surprising, though. After all, my wildly over-simplified librarian stereotype is a master of accomplishing things in near silence, not unlike a book-ninja, if you will.

All jokes and stereotypes aside, however, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the very real individuals in the ALA, and the ALA itself for being so legitimately awesome in the past, in the present, and presumably in the future. So, while this secret sect of warrior-librarians is fighting for your rights, the least you can do is maybe sign a petition to help, or even lend them a hand. They’re good folks to get to know.

(ALA Advocacy, ALA on copyright, on intellectual freedom and civil liberties, on privacy, and on diversitythanks Jazzy!)

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