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ALA Contradicts Itself With Verizon Grant

(My last blog post on Google using librarians was well linked. To be sure, I did say that I would only write about law libraries and marketing, but I may have stumbled upon something else. So, if you liked/hated the Google post, try this out.)


Here are two recent press releases put out by ALA:

1) June 20th, 2008 – ALA Disappointed with House Passage of FISA – "The President of the American Library Association (ALA), Dr. Loriene Roy, expressed disappointment today with the result of the U.S. House of Representatives vote on FISA reform – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R. 6403). “There were far better versions of this bill that would more effectively protect our civil liberties from needless and illegal surveillance,” Dr. Roy said. “We have taken a woeful step backwards.”

2) June 28th, 2008 – American Library Association Receives $1 Million Grant from Verizon Foundation – "The American Library Association (ALA) will launch an innovative project to track and measure the impact of gaming on literacy skills and build a model for library gaming that can be deployed nationally. Funding for the project will be provided by a $1 million grant from the Verizon Foundation."

The new FISA Amendments are, among other things, a way for telecommunication companies (of which Verizon is one of the biggest in the world) to be lawfully allowed to hand over private data to the government without the fear of getting sued by citizens. It’s basically a free pass at giving away our private information without any legal repercussions. It’s a huge step backward for privacy rights and ALA is dead on in rallying and lobbying against it.

But then they accept a grant (I’m assuming that it was applied for and not just given to them) from the same huge telecom that is taking a big part in trying to get the new FISA amendments passed? Verizon would love to trade in private citizen data to the government if it meant they would be immune from multi-million dollar lawsuits (as any bigco would).

So, ALA has contradicted itself. While they continue to fight for privacy rights, they will just as easily take funds from the same company that they are trying to lobby against. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that this is a bribe, but there it is. What happens when ALA lobbies harder against FISA and Verizon’s role in it? This just doesn’t add up.

Of course, this grant is going towards something supposedly good (although, IMO, the jury is still out on gaming and literacy, but that’s not the point – I would have published this post if it went towards something I believed in), but does that make it right? I don’t believe it does.

Should ALA give the $1 Million dollars back? On one hand, it’s a slap in the face to Verizon, but on the other hand, it’s a slap in the face to all ALA members that believe in privacy…

You can also discuss this post over at FriendFeed

11 Responses to “ALA Contradicts Itself With Verizon Grant”

  1. Davin
    July 9, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks for raising this issue. I’m an ALA member and I had the exact same reservations when I first read about this grant. (Reservations that persist, I might add.) I appreciate the lack of categorical outrage, and I agree that a healthy debate on these kinds of issues is important.

  2. Edana
    July 9, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    Keith Olbermann, taking a “truth is never pure and rarely simple” point of view, offered the following:

    “…the House FISA bill does not EXCLUDE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION (only civil lawsuits) of those who were involved in breaking the law(s) of this country back in 2001…there is a light at the end of this tunnel!”

    You can read the complete post by googling (oops) keith olberman FISA obama. 😉

  3. Erik Sandall
    July 9, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    “So, ALA has contradicted itself. While they continue to fight for privacy rights, they will just as easily take funds from the same company that they are trying to lobby against.”

    The ALA is “lobbying” against a congressional legislative amendment, not a company.

    Surely, money like this does not come easily to the ALA. While I think Verizon’s participation in warrantless wiretapping is shameful, and wish the practice stopped altogether, I have no problem with ALA taking money from Verizon and using the funds to benefit librarians and the people we serve.

    And this is almost certainly not a bribe–why would Verizon need to pay off little ol’ ALA when they clearly have a strong lobby in Congress?

    /Erik Sandall
    /MLIS Candidate, 2009
    /San Jose State University

  4. Jenny Levine
    July 9, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    First of all, the grant is from the Verizon Foundation, not Verizon. Second of all, ALA has partnered with the Verizon Foundation for years to promote literacy.

    Verizon and its predecessor GTE has had a long standing relationship with the American Library Association for 10 years from 1999-2008, with financial support totaling $2,790,000. This partnership has been built around the theme of building and growing libraries role in literacy, starting in 1999 to build a national web of literacy coalitions and encouraging the development and growth of new literacy coalitions.

    From the start it was the objective of the two organizations to use innovative, technology-based initiatives to improve library literacy services. From the foundation of the first grant, ALA and the Verizon Foundation built, designed to make literacy and library information more easily accessible to other non profit literacy organizations (NCFL, Reading is Fundamental and National Coalition for Literacy)and the general public and linking to the Verizon Literacy Network.

    That more than $2.5 million has done *a lot* of good for literacy in this country. It wasn’t a bribe then (hence the fact that we’re still fighting the FISA bill), and it isn’t now. The gaming and literacy initiative is an extension of work we’ve been doing together for ten years.

  5. Steven Cohen
    July 9, 2008 at 1:04 pm #

    Erik: ALA is lobbying against an amendment which directly relates to a company that will benefit hugely (we’re talking tens of millions of dollars from civil suits) from the passing of said amendment. While I may have gone a bit overboard about it being a bribe, it’s just odd that ALA will continue to take money from a company that goes against one of the main core-values of the organization. If Verizon faught as heavily against FISA as they used to with other privacy issues (remember when they wouldn’t hand over data for file sharing services), then I would have no problem. But, they are now purposefully taking a back seat to governmental wants to save their bottom line (and bottoms) and I find that deplorable.

  6. Steven Cohen
    July 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Jenny: The Verizon Foundation is directly linked to Verizon as a philanthropic unit of the company. BigCo’s with foundations do this all of the time. Their web site links to many of the pages (like the corporate responsibility site and others). And even if they aren’t part of the same company (which they most certainly are), the perception (as far as I saw it) is that they are. Perception is sometimes more important (from a PR perspective) than reality.

    It also doesn’t matter to me what ALA and Verizon have done together in the past. That’s the past and they have a historical relationship. They have done wonders for literacy and I applaud them for that.

    But it doesn’t explain the fact that Verizon is now not fighting the government on privacy issues (Why would they? They are saving themselves a huge load of money. They are doing what BigCo’s do) But for ALA to continue to take money from Verizon, based on Verizon’s current views on privacy, is, in my opinion, staggering.

    Money, apparently, is more important that core values.

  7. Adri
    July 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Verizon foundation vs. Verizon – one definitely wouldn’t be here today without the other, right?

    Not saying there isn’t great literacy work being funded by grants from the Foundation arm of Verizon – but Steven poses a very good ethical question that needs to be asked.

    Do I think ALA should return the money? No – they wrote the grant good for them. Should ALA look at their ethics before applying for future grants to see if the parent organization of the granter coincides with the profession’s ethics – most definitely.

  8. Jenny Levine
    July 9, 2008 at 1:31 pm #

    Steven, I was directly addressing your question “What happens when ALA lobbies harder against FISA and Verizon’s role in it?” ALA has lobbied against Verizon’s stance on other issues such as net neutrality despite receiving grant money for literacy programs for ten years. The same is true here, and this grant won’t change our stance or efforts to fight the FISA (or any other) bill, as we’ve proven with past lobbying initiatives.

    In that sense, the historical record is “very* important, and it’s a long, well-established one. ALA has never caved on an issue like this, grant or no grant, and it’s important to recognize that when throwing around terms like contradiction, bribe, and “slap in the face.”

    As Jeff Scott noted on FriendFeed, “The reality of the wiretapping is that it is the GOVERNMENT using Verizon to get at your data, THEN making sure Verizon doesn’t get in trouble for it. Who should you be upset with?”

    I understand that you view this as a conflict of values, but literacy is also a core value for ALA, one we take very seriously in order to promote books and reading.

  9. Davin
    July 9, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    There’s a long history of divestment and other organized economic boycotts of both countries and corporations. Is it possible to look at this argument in that context?

  10. Kathleen de la Peña McCook
    July 11, 2008 at 9:38 pm #

    It is tough to refuse because it is easy to get marginalized. But that is the price for taking a stand sometimes. I have not participated in any of the Laura Bush grants because I disagree with the naming of our future students on their resumes, for their whole careers as “Laura Bush Fellows.”…yet the grants have helped many people. But the program existed in a different form at Title II and was not used for branding.
    These are not easy questions, but I do not think ALA should take Verizon money if we are filing a suit. I am glad we are filing the suit. The book below offers more discussion on this issue. I think we should take a side.
    [the print in this box is so tiny I can’t review what I’ve said]

    Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian.

    Joseph Good critiques neutrality as a form of moral relativism in “The Hottest Place in Hell.” Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, “neutrality” no longer means “impartiality” or “objectivity,” but too often lapses into what might be better termed “indifference.”
    Editor: Alison Lewis
    Price: $18.00
    Published: April 2008

  11. Kathleen de la Peña McCook
    July 11, 2008 at 10:23 pm #

    It is ACLU that is filing..I hope ALA joins in:
    ACLU Sues Over Unconstitutional Dragnet Wiretapping Law (7/10/2008);Group Also Asks Secret Intelligence Court Not To Exclude Public From Any Proceedings On New Law’s Constitutionality.

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