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Those Poor LC Librarians are Restricted

I’m postponing my followup post to the last post until Monday, because I just had to say something about the Library of Congress blocking access to Wikileaks. I obviously haven’t been paying enough attention to shenanigans at the Library of Congress lately, mainly because its blog is usually really boring.

I’m not sure I agree that all the Wikileaks are that bad. Though some of the leaked documents could lead to damage, some of that information should already have been leaked to make Americans feel safer. I feel better knowing that China knows what a dangerous basket case North Korea is, or that Iran’s neighbors are sane enough to know how insane it is. But anyway.

Here’s the official response from LC:

The Library decided to block Wikileaks because applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information.  Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents’ classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.

Though it seems the Library of Congress went to extremes in actually blocking access, it does seem in line with the email directive the White House sent out to federal agencies:

Federal agencies collectively, and each federal employee and contractor individually, are obligated to protect classified information pursuant to all applicable laws, as well as to protect the integrity of government information technology systems.

The White House never requested blocked access, but I guess the administrators at the Library of Congress don’t trust their staff. Though I’m not sure that I would trust a bunch of bored librarians with computers to voluntarily refrain from searching Wikileaks.

Some librarians have been up in arms that the Library of Congress would restrict access to any information, because, you know, libraries are about access to information! It’s censorship! I don’t think that’s relevant here because the White House directive isn’t about restricting access to information in the way that, say, “banning” Heather Marries a Dead Gay Penguin is “censorship,” or even the way that real censorship is censorship.

I hate to break it to earnest librarians looking for censorship in this issue, but classified documents are already censored. That’s just in the nature of the beast. Wikileaks has uncensored them. The government would love to censor these documents again, but obviously can’t.

The language from both the White House and the Library of Congress is clear on the motivation: to “protect classified information.” Now that has to be about the stupidest reason anyone could possibly give for even asking people not to read, and especially for blocking federal employee access to, websites.

It’s too late to protect that classified information. The time to think about that protection was in 1995. Here’s an excerpt from a Time Magazine story on government secrecy:

In 1995, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12958, which gave just 20 officials, including the President, the power to classify documents as top secret, meaning their disclosure would likely “cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” of the U.S. But sneakily, the order also allowed those 20 selected officials to delegate their authority to 1,336 others. Nor was that all: according to a 1997 bipartisan congressional report of a committee chaired by the scourge of government secrecy, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, such “derivative” classification authority was eventually handed to some 2 million government officials and a million industry contractors.

So three million people, including a million non-federal employees, had top secret clearance to government documents just two years after the Executive Order. Add to that the ability to download the information onto portable drives (which I read somewhere has now been restricted), and that sounds like some pretty good information protection!

Given that the government couldn’t protect the information when they controlled it, the idea of protecting it once it’s out on the Internet makes the White House look ridiculous, and the idea that restricting access for LC librarians to Wikileaks protects classified information just makes LC look dumb, because those poor LC librarians could never figure out how to find that Wikileaks information.

The restricted Internet access is dumb considering that probably no people would be more easily able to find and read the Wikileaks documents than librarians, restricted access or no. The restricted access implies that the librarians can’t be trusted to comply with a request from the White House and are also too incompetent to bypass the restrictions. Way to go, LC!



  1. Annoyed Librarian,

    I don’t often agree with you, but in this case, I believe that you hit the jackpot. The LOC is not a regular sort of library. Because they are part of the federal government, they have requirements that take precedence over supposed censorship. I also agree with you in that I don’t really think this is a case of censorship at all. Thanks.

  2. It’s not just LC, but all government employees. As my husband explained to me, he does not have clearance to read top secret documents. It doesn’t matter if those documents are readily accessible – he still can’t read it.

    It’s like if someone left the car keys in a brand new convertible. Just because the keys are there doesn’t mean it’s still not against the law to steal it.

    If the LC librarians don’t have clearance to read it, then they can’t. They can do what my husband is doing: wait for CNN to tell us all about it.

  3. “probably no people would be more easily able to find and read the Wikileaks documents than librarians”

    What? Half the profession hates technology and the other half is too busy playing video games.

  4. If you’re a federal employee it doesn’t matter if you find classified documents in your laundry, car, wherever, you still can’t read them. Seems to me that I would be grateful to have the site blocked.

  5. Even if you have a TS clearance, such information is generally compartmentalized, meaning that you must have not only the clearance but the “need to know” in order to do your job. Having a clearance doesn’t automatically grant you access to everything classified at that level or below.

    Restricting the network seems kind of silly, but you could look at it as doing due diligence–whether the stuff is in the wild or not, the law requires that you protect it to the extent of your ability, which could reasonably be interpreted to include preventing unauthorized persons within your sphere of control from accessing it. DoD and the Army issued a bunch of reminder directives about not attempting to access the material a few months ago; the tone was generally, “Yeah, we know, but we still have an obligation to do our best, no matter how futile.”

  6. ElderLibrarian says:

    My coffee highed self can’t help but think that the young man who gave this stuff to Wikileaks didn’t read most of it either, but he is in deep dodo- why did he have so much access to begin with?
    Also, dear AL, it drives me batty to hear dumb talk about censorship from librarians. Do they not know what it actually means?

  7. AL is the Julian Assange of the library world.

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