Resist, or comply?

Individual librarians differed in their responses to the Patriot Act, and reported different responses to requests for records or information. A January 2003 Library Research Center poll found that 49% of 444 libraries polled had cooperated with law enforcement by voluntarily providing information about the reading habits and Internet searches. The poll indicated that law enforcement agents had visited over 500 libraries nationwide in the year since the 9/11 attacks. Roughly a third of these visits were from the FBI, the remainder being from local police. The number may in fact be an underestimate, because of the secrecy provision of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Yet, 60% of librarians polled said that they felt the secrecy provisions were a violation of the First Amendment. In December of 2002, librarians from round the country met via teleconference and listened to speakers’ suggestions about how to respond to a request under Section 215. Since there is no provision in the act to require record keeping, many speakers recommended that libraries destroy patron records on a regular basis to avoid having to turn them over. The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has created guidelines for librarians confronted with a visit from the FBI or any law enforcement.


“Librarians Divided Over Patriot Act Compliance,” American Libraries, January 23, 2003. Online (April 2, 2007) Available Adam

Clymer, “Librarians Get Advice on Handling Government Requests for Information on Readers,” New York Times,
New York, December 12, 2002, A. 30

Explore posts in the same categories: Patriot Act and Libraries

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