Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Forfeiture Documents That the Justice Dept Wanted to Destroy

>>> Federal Depository Libraries house tons of documents published by the US government. Several times a year, a federal agency asks these libraries to withdraw and destroy material on its shelves. In half the cases, the reason given is that the material wasn't meant to be released, that it's for "internal use only" or "official use only." [learn more]

On 22 July 2004, the Justice Dept—via the Government Printing Office—told libraries to destroy five documents on asset forfeiture, a highly controversial practice in which the authorities take people's property. (Sometimes the people have been convicted of crimes; other times they haven't even been charged with a crime.) [Learnmore] The order said:

Please withdraw these materials immediately and destroy them by any means to prevent disclosure of their contents. The Department of Justice has determined that these materials are for internal use only.

Unlike all the other times an order like this was issued, some librarians, libraries, and the American Library Association put up a fight. The Justice Dept's request was met with widespread derision online, and the mainstream media picked up the story. In the face of this unexpected resistance, the Justice Dept backed down eight days later. By that time, many libraries—eager to do the government's bidding—had unhesitatingly burned these public documents. If a few parties hadn't raised hell, the material would be out of public circulation forever.

The Memory Hole has obtained the sensitive documents that the Justice Dept wanted to destroy. They've been scanned and posted above. One of the documents on the burn list—"Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure"—was sent to libraries on microfiche and isn't currently available here. When we get a paper copy, we'll post it.

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