Libraries, you will recall, are playgrounds for terrorists—which is why George W. Bush and Dick Cheney made sure the that PATRIOT Act empowered the FBI to rummage through library records with impunity and without a warrant, confidentiality be damned. But now that there's a lawsuit seeking records from their presidential libraries, Bush and Cheney are hiding behind the Librarian's Code.
The lawsuit is from me. With the help of Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, I filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint last year against the National Archives and Records Administration demanding copies of the paperwork Bush and Cheney used to access files from their presidential libraries. NARA administers those libraries, and even though the Presidential Records Act gives Bush and Cheney—or their designees—exclusive access to their papers through 2014, all of the requests that NARA receives for those papers, and the responses it gives, are subject to FOIA just like the records of any federal agency. Curious to know how NARA was helping Bush and Cheney shape their legacies, research their memoirs, and dole out access to friendly historians and researchers, I filed a request for those records two years ago.
NARA is fighting it. In court papers filed this week, the agency rather ironically invoked the inviolate confidentiality inherent in the relationship between a librarian and her patron:
These types of disclosures invade long-recognized privacy interests that are central to all individuals' ability to use an archives or library in order to freely develop and express their thoughts.... At bottom, [Bush and Cheney] possess a substantial privacy interest in the subject of their inquiries, as confirmed by the near-universal norms within the archival and librarian professions.
Aside from the hilarious thought of George W. Bush slinging on his backpack and pedaling a bike down to his presidential library to check out some torture memos, it's a bit rich for the architects of a law that the American Library Association called "a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users" to be invoking those very privacy rights once someone wants to know what they've been reading at the library.
Here's the filing: