The noose tightens

Within weeks of the 9-11 attacks, Congress was approving legislation that would permit federal judges to permit sweeping warrants for domestic wiretapping. Attorney General John Ashcroft was calling for anti-terrorism legislation to expand the surveillance powers of law enforcement, and New York Attorney General Eliot Spizter was calling for expanded authority to use wiretaps.

In late September, 2001, A number of civil libertarians and librarians issued a “Library Community Statement on Freedom of Speech and Access to Information,” which spoke in vague platitudes about the responsibility to balance the right to information access and privacy rights with cooperation with law enforcement, and supporting “our Nation’s (sic) leaders” in protecting “the freedoms that are the foundation of our democracy.”

On October 26, 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed, and included provisions such as Section 215, which gave the FBI the authority to order anyone to turn over “any tangible things” to them as part of “an authorized investigation…to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Section 215 would be the portion of the act that most seriously affected libraries, because it empowered the FBI to gain access to the borrowing records and Internet use records of patrons without their knowledge, and without probable cause.

Sources:

Lizette Alvarez, “After the Attacks: Intelligence. Spying on Terrorists and Thwarting Them Gains New Urgency,” New York Times, September 14, 2001, Pg. A. 17

William Glaberson, “Government Has Power to Curb Some Freedoms,” New York Times, September 19, 2001. pg. B.7

H.R. 3162 USA Patriot Act, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Online (March 27, 2007) Available http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html

“Section 215 FAQ,” ACLU website, 10/24/2002, Online (March 26, 2007) Available http://www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/15423res20021024.html

“The USA Patriot Act in the Library,” American Library Association, Intellectual Freedome Issues. Online (March 27, 2007) Available http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/ifissues/usapatriotlibrary.pdf

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