Libraries guard readers' privacy
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  1. #1

    Cool Libraries guard readers' privacy

    Posted on Wed, May. 28, 2003

    Libraries guard readers' privacy
    By Dan Stober
    Mercury News

    Palo Alto librarians are shredding documents and deleting computer records to keep patrons' reading habits from inquiring FBI agents.

    The librarians, long supportive of readers' privacy, are reacting to provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the federal anti-terrorism law that makes it easier for the FBI to peruse library records.

    In a separate but related action, the city's police chief is lending her support to a resolution coming before the city council that would prohibit city police from aiding the FBI in Patriot Act searches, interviews or surveillance without evidence that a crime has been committed. The Patriot Act allows the FBI to employ a lower standard.

    ``We will only assist if it's lawful under the Constitution and civil rights,'' said Chief Lynne Johnson. The resolution was approved by the city's human relations commission last week. The city council is expected to consider the resolution Monday night.

    But the librarians at the city's six libraries have already acted. Six days after a book is returned, all records of the transaction are automatically deleted from the computer system. Paper records -- such as inter-library loan requests, book reserve lists and sign-up lists for the library's public computers -- are being shredded as quickly as they're used.

    ``It's just trying to make sure that there's not an opportunity to go back and specify a particular library item with a particular person,'' said Diane Jennings, the acting city librarian.

    Part of the job

    As a profession, librarians have long sought to protect the privacy of patrons. Library associations are particularly upset with the Patriot Act, which makes it significantly easier for the FBI to obtain records, and offers libraries no opportunity to resist.

    Before the Patriot Act was passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, libraries could go to court to contest a subpoena for records. Today, the Patriot Act allows FBI agents to obtain a special search warrant by simply swearing to a judge that their request is related to a terrorism investigation. The law prohibits a librarian from even telling anyone (``No person shall disclose to any other person'') that the warrant has been served.

    Jennings said she cannot discuss whether the FBI has sought any records from Palo Alto. ``It hasn't been a big issue for our library system'' was as close as she would come.

    The library's actions were motivated by ``the concern of many residents in town about the potential effect of the USA Patriot Act on their right to privacy,'' she said.

    If libraries shred their records, the FBI will get by without them, said LaRue Quy, a special agent who speaks for the San Francisco office.

    Library computers are of interest, she said, because terrorists might use them for Internet access. ``This was just a way, that if we knew they were using the Internet, we could come in and find out who they were in communication with,'' she said.

    Nationwide, agents have obtained records from 50 libraries, Justice Department officials said in a report released last week.

    Section 501 of the Patriot Act applies not only to libraries, but to the records of any organization or business -- bookstores, credit card companies, telephone systems, Internet providers and retailers.

    ``This is comparable to the Stalinist era. Or book burning under the Nazis,'' said Faith Bell, the owner of Bell's Book Store in downtown Palo Alto. She said she worries about her notes from conversations with Stanford University researchers who ask her to watch for books on certain subjects. ``People have a legitimate right to research anything they want in this country,'' she said.

    ``I've had people who are clearly Islamic come in and buy a book about munitions,'' she said. ``Publish that in the paper.''

    Police support rights

    The resolution approved by the human relations commission deals not with libraries but with the police department. An earlier draft of the resolution, written by the American Civil Liberties Union, drew objections from the police department because, Chief Johnson said, it was harshly critical of police.

    ``But we totally support the underlying premise,'' Johnson said. ``As far as we're concerned, we absolutely will and must support people's constitutional rights.''

    Quy, the FBI spokeswoman, said anger at the FBI was misplaced. ``The FBI was not the organization that authored the Patriot Act. That was voted in by Congress,'' she said.

    ``The FBI activities are secret only to the public. But everything has had oversight by the judge or a court,'' she said.

    City councils that pass resolutions directing their police departments not to cooperate ``are the ones acting outside the Constitution,'' she said.

    According to the ACLU, more than 100 cities have passed resolutions protesting the Patriot Act.

    Contact Dan Stober at or (650) 688-7536.



  2. #2
    Guest Free Member
    My personal opinion is that the whole issue is Much Ado About Nothing.

    (And PLEASE, don't flame me back talking about civil rights, government intrusion, etc. etc. I'm familiar with ALL of the arguments.)

    IF, I was concerned about the issue, and I'm NOT, here's what I would do about it.

    I would organize a nationwide protest, and probably get a couple of million people involved, because they would never have to leave their homes, march, or attend rallies.

    We would flood the FBI and other Patriotic Act Enforcers with letters, e-mails, and telephone calls.

    Once a week I would submit my report, with a separate report for each catagory.

    "Hi, this is Mike Farrell's report for the week of 15-22 May 2003.

    This is the list of books I read.

    "Hi, this is Mike Farrell's report for the week of 15-22 May 2003.

    This is the list of people I telephoned with a summary of what we talked about.

    "Hi, this is Mike Farrell's report for the week of 15-22 May 2003.

    This is a list of people who called me on the telephone and a summary of what was discussed.

    "Hi, this is Mike Farrell's report for the week of 15-22 May 2003.

    This is a list of the dates, times, and positions used when my wife and I made love this week.

    "Hi, this is Mike Farrell's report for the week of 15-22 May 2003.

    etc. etc. et. etc.
    I think a few million people each filing ten reports a week would save the enforcers a lot of time, effort, and energy because they would not be required to research the information for themselves.

    I REALLY don't understand what the commotion is all about.

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