Libraries, Bookstores, and the Freedom to Read Protection Act
- Current threat: Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act
- New law in action: Santa Fe Police Detain Library Patron over Chat-Room Visit
- Resources, including the Campaign for Reader Privacy
- News articles
Alert: If you are a librarian, the alternative press needs your stories of the government's seeking information on library users.
Santa Cruz branches tell patrons that FBI may spy on them (from a March 10, 2004, article in the San Francisco Chronicle)
Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act extends the capabilities of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by enabling anyone within the FBI down to the rank of Assistant Special Agent in Charge to request a court order for tangible items sought for an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The judge must give permission if an agent has so certified.
For example, it permits the FBI director to seek records from bookstores and libraries of books that a person has purchased or read, or of his or her activities on a library's computer. It also places a gag order to prevent anyone from disclosing that they have been ordered to produce such documents.
This change puts people at risk for exercising their free speech rights to read, recommend, or discuss a book, to write an email, or to participate in a chat room (see story below). It also denies booksellers and library personnel the free speech right to inform anyone, including an attorney, that the FBI has asked for someone's reading list. The FBI no longer must meet the test that "there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power."
A St. John's College Library visit by a former public defender was abruptly interrupted February 13 when city police officers arrested him about 9 p.m. at the computer terminal he was using, handcuffed him, and brought him to the Santa Fe, New Mexico, police station for questioning by Secret Service agents from Albuquerque. Andrew J. O'Conner, 40, who was released about five hours later, said in the February 16 Santa Fe New Mexican, "I'm going to sue the Secret Service, Santa Fe Police, St. John's, and everybody involved in this whole thing."
According to O'Connor, the agents accused him of making threatening remarks about President George W. Bush in an Internet chat room. Admitting he talked politics face-to-face in the library with a woman who was wearing a "No war with Iraq" button, O'Connor recalled saying that Bush is "out of control," but that "I'm allowed to say all that. There is this thing called freedom of speech." He also speculated that the FBI might have been observing him because of his one-time involvement in a pro-Palestinian group in Boulder, Colorado.
Earlier on the same day O'Connor was questioned, officials at St. John's-as well as at the College of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Community College-issued warnings to students and faculty that the FBI had been alerted to the presence of "suspicious" people on campus within the past four weeks.
Concern about threats to individual privacy under the USA PATRIOT Act has prompted New Mexico legislators in both houses to propose resolutions urging state police not to help federal agents infringe on civil rights. The resolutions also encourage libraries to post prominent signage warning patrons that their library records are subject to federal scrutiny without their permission or knowledge.
Source: American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association
- ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano's statement on the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization hearings
- Congressman Sanders's keynote address at the June 2003 American Library Association/Canadian Library Association
- Rep. Sanders' Website: Civil Liberties and the USA Patriot Act
- Campaign for Reader Privacy
- American Library Association's USA PATRIOT Act page
- Web site of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
- American Library Association's Confidentiality and Coping with Law Enforcement Inquiries: Guidelines for the Library and its Staff
- April 28, 2005, Carol Brey-Casiano, Daily Herald, The Patriot act in action
- April 24, 2005, Jane Gordon, New York Times, In Patriots' Cradle, the Patriot Act Faces Scrutiny
- April 21, 2005, Nicole Brodeur, The Seattle Times, Deming's defender of words
- April 13, 2005, Jim Wright, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Giving up liberty for safety? Let's hope not
- March 25, 2005, Nancy Shuffleton, The Rockingham News, Local librarian fights for reader privacy
- February 23, 2005, Dan Malone, Fort Worth Weekly, Governing in the Dark: Librarians are once again fighting to keep public records public.
- February 27, 2004, Mark Bryant, AP, Congress Urged to Amend Section 215
- January 18, 2004, Glen Leyden, The Star, Privacy v. Security
- September 18, 2003, CBS News, No Patriot Check Out At Libraries
- September 17, 2003, Curt Anderson, Associated Press, Ashcroft: U.S. to declassify library data
- September 17, 2003, Congressman Bernie Sanders, Letter to New York Times, Ashcroft vs. Librarians
- September 15, 2003, Eric Lichtblau, Ashcroft Mocks Librarians and Others Who Oppose Parts of Counterterrorism Law
- August 18, 2003, James Bovard, The Baltimore Sun, America Fights for Freedom to Read
- July 23, 2003, Transcript of Bernie Sanders' interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
- April 25, 2003, Al Winslow, Berkeley Planet, Library Bristles at Patriot Act
- April 24, 2003, Dean Schabner, ABC News, Right to Read Librarians, Booksellers Take on Feds Over Patriot Act Provisions
- April 7, 2003, Dean Murphy, New York Times, Librarians Use Shredder to Show Opposition to New F.B.I. Powers
- April 3, 2003, Jerry Seper, Congressmen seek clarifications of Patriot Act