AALL’s ‘extreme vetting’ removes post on professional ethics for suggesting collective action by AALL readers

As the gatekeepers for the databases and platforms that we use for research, librarians have an obligation to honor privacy and civil liberties in their libraries, and to stand up to research product companies helping ICE to build supersystems for “extremely vetting” citizens and noncitizens alike. — Sarah Lamdan and Yasmin Sokkar Harker, LexisNexis’s Role in ICE Surveillance and Librarian Ethics, Law Librarian Blog, Dec. 11, 2017

Last week, Sarah Lamdan and Yasmin Sokkar Harker published “LexisNexis’s Role in ICE Surveillance and Librarian Ethics” on the RIPS blog. (Later republished on LLB.) The RIPS blog contains the disclaimer that “All opinions expressed in the posts herein are those of the individual author and do not represent the opinions of RIPS-SIS or AALL.” The disclaimer wasn’t good enough to stop our association from taking down the post in its entirety on the advice of AALL’s general counsel and without consulting with the post authors until after the takedown.

Why?

Two answers have been offered to the above question. First, our association’s rationale may be that AALL fears an antitrust lawsuit from one of our very expensive legal information providers mentioned in the post. Alternatively, perhaps, AALL fears alienating an organizational member that contributes funding to our association. Since our association’s general counsel was involved, it appears likely that AALL was afraid of possible litigation on antitrust grounds for singling out LexisNexis in the blog post. If so, we have a problem here, one that cannot be addressed by our association without some risk exposure. How much? Would LexisNexis sue AALL over this? I seriously doubt it but…

According to a comment posted by Dennis Kim-Prieto to an Immigration Prof Blog post about the Lamdan and Harker piece:

The upshot of [LexisNexis’s role in ICE surveillance] is that LexisNexis may no longer be a secure research resource for immigration practice and appeals. By searing [sic] LexisNexis, attorneys are giving them access to their search terms, which is what ICE really needs to inform the algorithms that will run the proposed database. Every immigration attorney and clinic should, in my professional opinion, find another source to use instead of LexisNexis. You may be inadvertently putting your clientele at risk by using LexisNexis!

If that is the case, then we have a situation where our ethical concerns for searcher privacy in database usage cannot find expression in concerted activity under the AALL umbrella because it might lead to an anti-competitive boycott of LexisNexis. As a professional association we are sinking in the quicksand of antitrust rules again. — Joe

2 thoughts on “AALL’s ‘extreme vetting’ removes post on professional ethics for suggesting collective action by AALL readers

  1. Dennis Kim-Prieto December 14, 2017 at 11:42 am Reply

    So, first off, I am mortified at my typo in my post. It’s the kind of thing that makes me hyper-embarrassed. But also, I would like to clarify my comment cited above: I am not calling for a boycott of LexisNexis. I am saying that we do not know if LexisNexis remains a secure source for research supporting immigration practice. I am saying that immigration attorneys and clinics need to make that cost-benefit analysis for themselves. I have alerted my faculty, and I know other law librarians have done the same. But we are not cancelling LexisNexis. I am only saying that we do not know if using LexisNexis in immigration practice presents a harm to clients.

  2. Maria Sosnowski December 15, 2017 at 2:50 pm Reply

    I find it rather paranoid of AALL to take down the post. And I find it very distressing that a national organization that is supposed to benefit its members, represent us, and help us share information with each other, would take that step. The hyper-concern about antitrust seems to be destroying all common sense, and frankly destroying the value of AALL to its members.

    This is interesting information that clearly pertains to law librarians and is a benefit for us to know. Is AALL now taking the position that all comments made, all articles written, express their position and therefore will be deleted if not in agreement? Are they vetting all comments made on the forums for adherence to this standard? If you take this to the more extreme example, you can better see how ridiculous this is.

    In this era of fake news, and of growing attempts by segments to silence other segments, this is even more disturbing.

    Thank you for posting this and posting the articles on the blog.

    And of course, all opinions are my own.

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