Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2015 Issue

Libraries and Booksellers Take On the NSA


Libraries and booksellers go to court to protect their patrons' privacy.

The battle against spying by the NSA (National Security Administration) recently brought organizations representing libraries and booksellers into the fray. Libraries and booksellers have often found themselves fighting to protect the privacy of their patrons' reading and buying habits. In the past, this has pertained to printed, physical books. Today, much reading and buying takes place electronically, be it through orders placed online or through electronic books. The result is that electronic surveillance now fits within the purview of concerns for book people. If before they felt a duty to protect their clients from the government snooping on who was reading what, today that duty equally applies to electronic reading and purchasing habits.


As we all now know as a result of leaks, the U. S. government does a massive amount of spying on communications between America and overseas. The modus operandi appears to be to gather enormous amounts of information, run it by keywords that the government believes terrorists use online, and use those matches to determine who may want to do us harm. However, these are all random interceptions, not based on reasonable suspicions of the people whose communications are intercepted. Neither is there any attempt to get a search warrant from a judge. It is all a massive fishing expedition, with the belief being that if the nets are set far and wide enough, fish are bound to get captured. A few of those fish may be sharks, out to do us wrong.


The NSA has been sued by Wikimedia (operator of Wikipedia) and others to stop these broad, warrantless searches. They have sued not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of their users as well. This is where libraries and booksellers come in. It is not so much on behalf of themselves as of their patrons that these book people are concerned. Practicality and privacy issues may make it imprudent for their patrons' to assert their rights, leaving it to those who serve them to defend their privacy.


The government defense is based on two arguments. The first is totally disingenuous. The NSA argues that Wikimedia can't sue because they haven't established that any of their communications or visits have been monitored by authorities. Nevermind that it has been revealed, and the government has even admitted, that they intercept an enormous volume of internet traffic and Wikipedia is a highly used website. Even with their admission, no one, no matter how high its traffic volume, can prove that any of its particular communications have been intercepted. Now, the NSA has not done the obvious and deny that Wikimedia communications have been intercepted. No, the government has simply attempted to set up a defense where, despite our knowing that huge amounts of information have been intercepted, no one can challenge its legality because no one in particular can prove that they were targeted. Even if illegal, no one would ever have the legal standing to challenge the government's behavior.


The government's second defense, and the one challenged by the book people, contests the right of parties like Wikimedia, or booksellers, or libraries, to assert the privacy rights of their patrons. This is the battle they have fought for years over physical books. The NSA maintains that Wikimedia does not have an interest in whatever privacy concerns they imagine their clients may have to challenge the interception of their communications in court. This claim has resulted in five book related organizations joining the battle, submitting what is known as an amicus curiae brief to the court on behalf of Wikimedia (this is a legal brief submitting additional arguments on behalf of the supported party). Those organizations are the American Library Association, American Booksellers Association, Association of Research Libraries, Freedom to Read Foundation, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.


The book groups point out that suspicion and embarrassment put a damper on freedom of speech (and information) if government is allowed to snoop on our reading habits. Will people even dare to read about terrorist groups to learn about them if they think the government is watching? What if officials think their desire to learn is a sign of support? Or how does it affect your freedom to read something controversial or potentially embarrassing if you think big brother is watching? Here's a two-word very current description of this issue – Ashley Madison.


In their legal filing, the book organizations ("amici" or friends) note, "Included in the 'millions of innocent people' swept within the government’s upstream surveillance are libraries, booksellers, and their patrons as they communicate online. Those interactions—the same ones that amici have historically gone to great lengths to protect in the physical world—are unceremoniously and systematically searched as they pass through government surveillance devices. These searches are 'almost certain' to deter the environment of 'uninhibited, robust, and wide-open' inquiry that amici work tirelessly to foster. Upstream thus violates the First Amendment 'right to be free from state inquiry into the contents of [one’s] library,' a right which amici would have standing to vindicate." "Upstream" refers to the manner in which communications are intercepted.


We will resist the temptation to pontificate. The library and bookseller groups have long honed in on this key issue of free speech, free communications, freedom from government intrusion in our lives. It is a fundamental value of most people who love books and freedom of information. Still, it would be unfair not to recognize the government's concerns. The threats we face today are new and real. Freedom from violence is important too.


However, it is not necessary to address those issues today as this lawsuit is focused on a procedural issue – who has "standing" to seek redress from government interference in a courtroom? According to the NSA's argument, essentially no one has. Libraries and booksellers may not, in their opinion, defend their patrons, even where practical concerns make it next to impossible for their patrons to defend themselves. Additionally, since no one can prove beyond a doubt that they were spied upon, though we know millions were, the NSA would effectively bar anyone from challenging their right to collect private electronic communications. Citizens have a right to have access to a courtroom. Let the courts decide as they may which communications are privileged, but at least give people the right to be heard. The libraries and booksellers must prevail in their demand to at least be heard by an impartial court if we are to have anything more than a police state.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

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