University of Illinois

2008 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award Given to Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive

In May 2008, the FBI withdrew a national security letter it issued to the Internet Archive, one of the largest digital archives in the world. Among the estimated hundreds of thousands of national security letters that have been issued, it was only the third time the FBI had withdrawn its request.

For his successful challenge to the national security letter, Brewster Kahle, a digital librarian, director, and co-founder of the Internet Archive, has been awarded the 2008 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Internet Archive, according to their Web site, is a "digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form" with over 500,000 card-carrying patrons. In November 2007, Kahle and the Internet Archive were issued a national security letter seeking information about a specific patron.

In response, Kahle, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the national security letter was unconstitutional. After four months of negotiation, the FBI withdrew its request and lifted Kahle's gag order. Shortly thereafter, Kahle held a news conference and was quoted as saying "The goal here was to help other recipients of NSLs to understand that you can push back on these."

GSLIS Assistant Professor Jerome McDonough said, "A librarian has to be an advocate for the user, and that is a job that requires intelligence, sensitivity, passion, and courage. Brewster embodies all of these traits."

A reception to honor Kahle will take place during the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center on January 24, 2009, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. The Greenwood Publishing Group provides the honorarium to the recipient of the Downs Intellectual Freedom Award and also co-sponsors the reception.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is given annually to acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Granted to those who have resisted censorship or efforts to abridge the freedom of individuals to read or view materials of their choice, the award may be in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom. The award was established in 1969 by the GSLIS faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the school.


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