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Librarians Make Some Noise Over Patriot Act

In Santa Cruz, Calif., all 10 branches of the library are destroying records daily and recently posted signs warning that the government has new authority to review whatever patrons read. Library officials also are distributing pamphlets that decry the secrecy provisions in the Patriot Act. “How can you tell when the FBI has been in your library?” the pamphlet asks. “You can’t.”
Librarian Anne Turner said that she and many library patrons are frightened more by the threat of losing constitutional rights than by terrorists. “People are angry that the government has this power,” she said. “It can go fishing for anything under this legislation.”
Librarians Make Some Noise Over Patriot Act

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1481-2003Apr9.html

Concerns About Privacy Prompt Some to Warn Patrons, Destroy Records of Book and Computer Use

By Rene Sanchez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2003; Page A20

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. - Every public computer inside this city’s library has a new warning taped to its screen. Beware, the message says, anything you read is now subject to secret scrutiny by federal agents.
“We felt strongly that this had to be done,” said librarian Linda Wilson. “The government has never had this kind of power before. It feels like Big Brother.”
Wilson is not accustomed to protest. Her days are spent quietly tending to aisles of books in this immigrant community near Los Angeles. But now she is at the forefront of an unusual rebellion.
Across the country, in a movement that belies their staid image, librarians are rising up in anger and rallying against a law the Justice Department calls one of its most important new tools to help catch terrorists before they strike.
The USA Patriot Act, swiftly approved by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, gives federal investigators greater authority to examine all book and computer records at libraries. The law requires investigators to get a search warrant from a federal court before seizing library records, but those proceedings are secret and not subject to appeal. It also forbids libraries from informing patrons that their reading or computer habits are being monitored by the government.
Federal officials say the new law is essential because prior statutes on obtaining library records imposed too many limits on fast-moving investigations. They also point out that several of the hijackers who rammed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon had used library computers to communicate. But many libraries are expressing fears that the law tramples constitutional rights to privacy and thwarts intellectual freedom.
Earlier this year, the American Library Association, which has 64,000 members, formally denounced the Patriot Act provision and passed a resolution urging Congress to repeal it. Since then, about two dozen state library groups, from California to Georgia, have taken the same stand. And that is only the beginning of the backlash.
Along with posting warnings about the law, some libraries are rushing to destroy nearly all of the records they keep of what their patrons read, as well as sign-up logs of computer use. Others are scrapping plans they had to use new computer technology that can profile the reading habits of patrons and inform them when works they enjoy are published.
“This law is dangerous,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA’s Washington office. “I read murder mysteries, does that make me a murderer? I read spy stories, does that mean I’m a spy? There’s no clear link between a person’s intellectual pursuits and their actions.”
The growing campaign against the Patriot Act took a while to catch fire. Many libraries spent months last year either unaware of the obscure provision on library records or discreetly debating whether to oppose it.
Some libraries also say they see no harm in the new law. Since the terrorist attacks, a few branches nationwide have decided without government prodding to remove provocative reading material, such as books that contain instructions for making explosives, from their shelves. Others are reporting suspicious patrons to local police or the FBI. In some places, the law has not provoked alarm or even public notice.
“It’s business as usual here,” said Peter Persic, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Public Library. “We have not had complaints about it.”
Federal officials say anxiety about the law is misinformed and overblown. It only targets suspected foreign spies and terrorists, they say, and is not being used to snoop recklessly on anyone reading or researching controversial subjects.
“We’re not going after the average American,” said Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman. “We’re only going after the bad guys. We respect the right to privacy. If you’re not a terrorist or a spy, you have nothing to worry about.”
Under previous laws, Corallo said, federal investigators at times had difficulty getting access to library records of people who had not committed a crime. “But terrorists had been exploiting that,” he said.
Corallo declined to say how many or what kind of requests federal agents have made for library records through the Patriot Act. To do so, he said, could compromise national security.
But in a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about 550 libraries across the country reported receiving requests over the past year from federal and local investigators for records of patrons. More than 200 libraries also said that they had resisted such requests from authorities.
Many librarians say they want to cooperate with investigations, but only under the terms of the statutes that the Patriot Act replaced. They say those provisions had forced the government to show more evidence of a threat to a judge to obtain a search warrant and allowed libraries to have a role in court proceedings. That argument is winning new support in Congress.
Last month, Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation to exempt library and bookstore records from the Patriot Act. Several dozen other lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have endorsed the measure. It also has the backing of the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association.
“Obviously, we’re aware of the dangers of terrorism,” Sanders said. “But we don’t want to see September 11 being used as an opportunity to take away basic constitutional rights.”
The uproar over how much access the government should have to library records is in some ways a new chapter in an old debate. Libraries felt similar pressures amid the anti-communist fervor that gripped the nation after World War II. This time, many are vowing not to be bullied into giving up records by what they call vague appeals to patriotism or national security.
The campaign against the Patriot Act is gaining support particularly in California, where some librarians say they will resist the measure at all costs.
Here in Monterey Park, Linda Wilson said she has not received any requests for records from government investigators, but that if she did, she would have a hard time staying quiet about it.
“I don’t like how the new law even takes away our right to speak,” she said. “If we take away these kind of freedoms, then we’ve let the terrorists win.”
In Santa Cruz, Calif., all 10 branches of the library are destroying records daily and recently posted signs warning that the government has new authority to review whatever patrons read. Library officials also are distributing pamphlets that decry the secrecy provisions in the Patriot Act. “How can you tell when the FBI has been in your library?” the pamphlet asks. “You can’t.”
Librarian Anne Turner said that she and many library patrons are frightened more by the threat of losing constitutional rights than by terrorists. “People are angry that the government has this power,” she said. “It can go fishing for anything under this legislation.”
Other cities are expressing the same unease. In Maine, several libraries recently launched a campaign to get their entire communities to read the George Orwell novel “1984,” which depicts a world in which an all-powerful government known as “Big Brother” meddles in citizens’ private lives and punishes them even for thought crimes.
Librarians there say they did not choose the book to attack the Patriot Act, but wanted readers to reflect on the relevance of its themes. Anne Phillips, assistant director of the Patten Free Library in Bath, said there is so much concern about the Patriot Act that staff members are now leaving “no trace” of who borrows books or uses computers.
So far, the library has not been asked to turn over any records. “We’re just hoping no one ever comes through the door,” she said.

 
 


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librarians destroying records...

This reminds me of Margaret Atwood's book, "The Handmaid's Tale" in which a group of far-right Christian extremists takes over the U.S. government and, among other things, criminalizes both having and performing abortions. Of course this applies retroactively and without currently accepted standards of evidence, so that all it takes to get a woman or a doctor summarily executed is an accusation of an abortion done at any time in the past. At one point, the protagonist remembers how, in the period just before the final takeover, hospitals could see how things were going and began destroying all records relating to abortions.

Does anyone know of a way to get copies of the pamphlet distributed in Santa Cruz?
 

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