Recently I was browsing the World Wide Web looking for information on the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001 (Uniting And Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools To Intercept And Obstruct Terrorism, H.R. 3162). One site I visited intended for librarians, which I am not, posed a question: How can you tell when the FBI has been in your library? Answer: You can't. "The Patriot Act makes illegal for us to tell you if your computers are monitored; be aware"! At another site, I took the ACLU's Freedom Quiz where question 8 asks: Which of these ideas is not the product of an over-active imagination? Answer: "Your local librarian can't tell you if the government has been investigating your reading habits."
Section 215 of this Act (Access to records under Foreign Intelligence Security Act) pertains to library records. The American Library Association website confirms that under this section: "Libraries or librarians served with a search warrant issued under FISA rules may not disclose; under penalty of law, the existence of the warrant or the fact that records were produced as a result of the warrant. A patron cannot be told that his or her records were given to the FBI or that he or she is the subject of an FBI investigation."
Needless to say, librarians throughout the United States are deeply concerned about the repercussions of H.R. 3612 on library privacy and confidentiality. Moreover, civil libertarians express concern that Constitutional rights are being violated in the name of national security. For example, probable cause is not needed or evidence of criminality, in order for library records to be scrutinized. Will patrons self-censor their Internet or reading habits our of fear of surveillance?
Raven Anthony Squire
Union City Public Library Friends, Inc.
Vice President of the Board