March 19, 2018

Bill Offers Patriot Act Exemption

By Andrew Albanese & Norman Oder

Measure would protect library and bookstore records from FBI

The Freedom To Read Protection Act, introduced in Congress March 6, would exempt libraries and booksellers from certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the primary sponsor of the legislation, appeared at a press conference along with representatives of the American Library Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and New England Booksellers Association. There were 23 initial cosponsors.

Previously, government lawyers required “probable cause” of a crime to obtain a search warrant. Now, it must be “relevant” to an investigation – a much lower threshold. A Justice Department spokesman said one reason for the Patriot Act provision was the discovery that some September 11 hijackers had apparently used public library computers to help plan their attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft has so far resisted reporting to the public any statistics regarding those visits to libraries or bookstores.

Libraries take action

About a half-dozen cities nationwide have taken steps to notify library patrons of the USA Patriot Act, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Santa Cruz Sentinel, CA, reported that the library will post signs at Santa Cruz Public Library branches and on the system web site to tell people that records of books and other materials borrowed may be obtained by federal agents. The library has not yet received any requests for records. The library board is on record as opposing the Patriot Act.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Public Library has changed a policy that allowed an FBI agent to acquire patrons’ computer sign-up sheets without a court order. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the library board has approved a revised policy under which sign-up sheets are deemed private records, available to law enforcement only with a court order. In mid-January, the agent asked for the sign-up sheets, responding to a tip from a library patron who observed “suspicious” behavior by a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent at the computer on December 28. The board was responding to a Post-Dispatcheditorial criticizing its compliance.

According to a recent study by the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about half of librarians questioned by law enforcement have given information voluntarily (see News , LJ 2/15/03, p. 16).

Man detained at NM library

John Balkcom, president of St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM, held a “town hall meeting” in February to explain to students why a local man using the campus library was taken into custody for allegedly making threatening comments against President Bush in an Internet chat room.

According to local news reports, on February 13, a former New Mexico public defender, Andrew O’Connor, was approached by two Santa Fe city police officers. They then removed him from the college’s Meem Library. He was taken to a local police station where two Secret Service agents from Albuquerque allegedly interrogated him for five hours, releasing him early the following morning. St. John’s spokesperson Laura Mulry said that the president told students that, given the recently upgraded terror threat, he chose to “err on the side of caution” when law enforcement officials decided to target O’Connor. While O’Connor is not a student at St. John’s, the library is open to the public.