• Home

Protecting Privacy, Challenging Secrecy, and Standing Up for the First Amendment

Protecting Privacy, Challenging Secrecy, and Standing Up for the First Amendment Connecticut “John Doe” librarians who successfully challenged an FBI attempt to gain patron information with a National Security Letter; Mark Feldstein: Director of Journalism program at George Washington University who was questioned by the FBI in connection with his research for a biography of Jack Anderson; Brian Ross and Richard Esposito: Reporters for ABC Nightly News who broke stories on interrogation techniques including waterboarding and whose telephone records were secretly obtained by the FBI; and James Risen: Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter who exposed domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency and author of State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration; Introduced by Ron Chernow and moderated by Patricia Schroeder.

As the government issues more and more secret orders seeking previously private information, and at the same time seeks new ways to shield the expanding realm of government secrets from public scrutiny, individual citizens are taking risky, at times harrowing, stands on behalf of the First Amendment.

This program, sponsored by the Campaign for Reader Privacy, focuses on the personal costs and rewards of some of these struggles. A group of Connecticut librarians discuss their successful struggle to defend patron privacy after receiving a National Security Letter issued under the USA Patriot Act. Jack Anderson’s biographer recounts a standoff with the FBI over its attempt to comb through the late journalist’s files in search of “classified” material that may have been leaked to him years ago. And three leading national news reporters talk about their efforts to break major stories on antiterrorism programs being carried out without congressional or judicial scrutiny, about learning reporters’ phone records have been seized in leak investigations, and about threats to prosecute reporters under the Espionage Act. All will explore the impact of their actions on their own lives and assess the public’s understanding of the First Amendment issues their experiences raise. 

The Campaign for Reader Privacy presents this program in celebration of the 25th observance of Banned Books Week, an annual reminder that we can never take our freedom to read for granted. A joint initiative of The American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, the Campaign for Reader Privacy seeks to protect the freedom of all Americans to read what they choose, free from the fear that the government is reading over their shoulders. “If the lady from Toledo can be required to disclose what she read yesterday and what she will read tomorrow,” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1953, “fear will take the place of freedom in the libraries, bookstores, and homes of the land.”

This program is sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, and PEN American Center.

Get the Free Speech News You Need

protesters in face masks carrying old Belarusian national flags

PEN America has a new weekly newsletter, PEN Points, bringing you a digest of the biggest free expression news of the week, plus the analysis and insights you trust from PEN America experts.