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Library in Santa Cruz fights to defend freedom

Library in Santa Cruz fights to defend freedom

Apr. 12, 2003
By Dennis Rockstroh
Mercury News
I have just returned from the frontier of freedom and can tell you what it is like.
Muffled discussions, the low din of fingers hitting keyboard keys, young people, older people, babies, toddlers silently, OK, not the toddlers, swishing by my vantage point on their search for information.
An older man, gingerly hauling six hardback, plastic-covered books approached the checkout desk and didn’t even glance at the warning sign.
This is an American library. More specifically, this is Santa Cruz’s Central Library on Church Street.
It is here where every day the fight for your freedom is waged. To be kept from prying eyes, requests for information are shredded at the end of each day. Other records are destroyed as soon as possible.
This is done here and at hundreds of other libraries across the land as patriots fight to keep freedoms knowing that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
The foe is the USA Patriot Act, an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
This well-meaning act, passed in the feverish aftermath of Sept. 11, while giving valuable tools to law enforcement, is also an assault on personal freedom.
This is not taken to kindly in seaside Santa Cruz, where people take their freedoms very seriously. Folks here heed the warning of Benjamin Franklin that “they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Santa Cruz forces at City Hall, the school district and the libraries have all spoken in opposition to the overreacting muscle of the federal government.
It’s that kind of a town. It’s that kind of people. Don’t mess with our freedoms, they say.
The sign at the checkout desk reads:
WARNING: Although the Santa Cruz Library makes every effort to protect your privacy, under the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56), records of the books and other materials you borrow from this library may be obtained by federal agents. That federal law prohibits library workers from informing you if federal agents have obtained records about you. Questions about this policy should be directed to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20530.
Or, I might add, ask Viet Dinh, the 34-year-old assistant attorney general and architect of the USA Patriot Act.
It is one of the ironies of history that the son of a family who fled their country to seek freedom in the United States wrote a law that some have called the most sweeping curtailment of individual freedoms since the McCarthy era.
Dinh learned his law at Harvard University and was editor of the Harvard Law Review. He became the first and only Vietnamese-American law professor at Georgetown University. He was also a constitutional law expert on CNN.
In published interviews, he has defended his work by saying that “the threat to liberty comes from Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, not from the men and women in blue who work to uphold the law.”
Dinh said the law he drafted “makes the best use of the information we have, sharing information between law enforcement agencies to put the pieces of the puzzle together so we can look for the needle in the haystack.”
The “needles” are the targets of the nation’s war on terrorism, remember that?
But a lot of people, including local governments across the county, think the law is government intrusion and goes too far.
And, as usual, Santa Cruz is up there near the head of the line.
Santa Cruz should have a city flag that matches its attitude: something like a snake on a gold field and the words “Don’t tread on me.”
Contact Dennis Rockstroh at drockstroh@mercurynews. com

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