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June 20, 2005 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Book-readin' bad guys This makes me safer already, knowing the feds are spending their time checking on who's reading about Osama bin Laden. Just &*##$@! brilliant work.

Law enforcement officials have made at least 200 formal and informal inquiries to libraries for information on reading material and other internal matters since October 2001, according to a new study that adds grist to the growing debate in Congress over the government's counterterrorism powers. In some cases, agents used subpoenas or other formal demands to obtain information like lists of users checking out a book on Osama bin Laden. (snip)
posted by etaoin (68 comments total)

 
[changed link to weblog-safe one, made small formatting change]
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 AM on June 20, 2005


Last June, a library user who took out a book there, "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," noticed a handwritten note in the margin remarking that "Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God," and went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agents, in turn, went to the library seeking names and information on anyone checking out the biography since 2001.

...Joan Airoldi, who runs the library, said in an interview that she was particularly alarmed after a Google search revealed that the handwritten line was an often-cited quotation from Mr. bin Laden that was included in the report issued by the Sept. 11 commission.


Fantastic.
posted by iamck at 7:32 AM on June 20, 2005


Huh. First of all, tracking what people are reading is creepy (of course). But beyond that, I'd always thought these guys would be interested to see who's reading about making bombs or the architectural structures of important buildings and so on. Reading about bin Laden seems like a perfectly normal way of reading about current events. This is even way different from trying to find people who are planning or thinking of planning crimes. This is targetting people who are interested in trying to understand what's going on in the world. Nice to see that the neocons consider people's knowledge of what's happening in the world as a threat.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:34 AM on June 20, 2005


tracking what people are reading is creepy

It's also illegal. After the last big push to gain more intelligence by scrutinizing people's library habits back in the 70's -- the Library Awareness program -- all states [except, I think, Kentucky] have passed privacy laws at the state level that say that a public library patron's records are private. This means that staff cannot legally tell other people what people are reading etc. Law enforcement requests that do not go through official search warrant type channels are in violation of these laws.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on June 20, 2005


I make it a point to pay in cash these days at bookstores. Who needs Snoopy McFed snorfing around knowing that I read 'Winnie The Pooh' under the covers . . .
posted by mk1gti at 7:47 AM on June 20, 2005


jessmyn
Rock, paper, scissors. The Patriot Act trumps that very law. Nice huh?
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:47 AM on June 20, 2005


leaping, it's a threat because we may see through the propaganda.

In some jurisdictions, they've gone to using debit cards in libraries... they issue them in exchange for cash. You load $20 onto your card. They deduct the purchase price of any books you check out, and refund it when you return the book, less damage and/or late fees. If you swap debit cards on a regular basis, I imagine it would be exceedingly tough to track your reading habits.
posted by Malor at 7:51 AM on June 20, 2005


We clearly can't be reading a quote from Bin Laden in a book about Bin Laden!

What's next? Including the Gettysburg Address in a biography of Lincoln??
posted by ilsa at 7:52 AM on June 20, 2005


In the months following 911, I think I bought copies of Soldiers of God, Islam and 911. There. I said it.

* waits for DHS agents to come knocking on door *
posted by psmealey at 7:53 AM on June 20, 2005


America sucks more every day.
posted by wakko at 7:54 AM on June 20, 2005


Marginally on topic:
Anyone see the episode of "Penn & Teller's Bullshit" on the Patriot Act? Good stuff, they addressed this very issue:
"The terrorists didn't fly libraries into the world trade center, so what the fuck?"
posted by papakwanz at 7:57 AM on June 20, 2005


I make it a point to pay in cash these days at bookstores. Who needs Snoopy McFed snorfing around knowing that I read 'Winnie The Pooh' under the covers . . .

well mk1gti, you shouldn't post it here. if johnny fed is snooping around the library, you can be certain that they are all over the internets - especially the subversive Metafilter.

then again, porter goss says he has an excellent idea where bin laden is, but still hasn't been able to produce the body so maybe you don't have nuttin' to worry about.
posted by three blind mice at 7:59 AM on June 20, 2005


America sucks more every day.

well, i'm not sure. i think that america pretty much sucks about the same as it ever has. the mccarthey hearings, j. edgar, tammany hall, theiving monopolists. thank god for outrage, though.
posted by quonsar at 8:03 AM on June 20, 2005


The REAL problem is: who is making too much noise in America's libraries?

As much as you tell them to "shh!", those damn terrorists never shut up - they're always rustling packets of crisps, looking up words like "penis" in the encyclopedia and giggling, and loudly performing wudu.

That's why I support the Secret Police in their just war against subversion - by putting duct tape over my mouth before I set off to the library to borrow my Tintin comix. Also I perform tayammum instead of wudu.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:05 AM on June 20, 2005


i bet you eat hummus too.
posted by quonsar at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2005


To play devil's advocate: how many arrests have been made based on reading lists?

Checking out various habits of people reading such books seems rather benign to me. Why should people feel violated by having their reading habits known? You are, after all, checking out a book from a public library?

Personally, I think it is a stupid and wasteful use of government resources. But, that being said, I don't exactly see why one should be concerned about.

Suppose we find that a guy has checked out every book about al Queda, been researching architectural plan, how-to-fly books, and how to make home-made bombs book. Might it be wise for such a person to be investigated? We want security in this country, and surely we would blame the government if another terrorist attack occurred. But this rather innocuous search into book habits is too much to be burdened with?

To my knowledge, people aren't being rounded up and arrested for reading Bernard Lewis (or Michael Moore, Chomsky or anyone else). One would be well-suited to read about people who were arrested based on reading habits in old Eastern Bloc countries. If we get there, I'll be ready with my guns at the barricade. But as of right now, 200 inquires into book habits in 4 years seems like a rather benign thing to get up into arms about.

If we want some security, we have to allow some efforts to prevent bad things from happening.
posted by dios at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2005


[insert ben franklin quote here]
posted by keswick at 8:15 AM on June 20, 2005


i bet you eat humans too

Well, at least I do it quietly.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:19 AM on June 20, 2005


well, keswick, one isn't sacrificing liberty when a government looks at a library record. One is still free to check out the book one wants.
posted by dios at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2005


dios: Why should people feel violated by having their reading habits known?

Shouldn't be too difficult to come up with a scenario. I believe you're a fairly rabid right-winger? Okay, here goes:

You're a local government worker somewhere liberal, and you're reading up on modern race relations: you get out "The Bell Curve" from the library - it's an oft-cited book, so you think it is important to know what it says. Before you know it the librarian has alerted the local government that your political views may be "inappropriate" for your work, which involves providing council services to black people, and you are suspended pending an investigation. The usual liberal group-think kicks in and you spend months fighting accusations of racism that ruin your career.

How's that?
posted by alasdair at 8:25 AM on June 20, 2005


I wonder if the Effa Bee Eye wants to keep track of white supremacists by seeing who checks out Mein Kampf.
posted by alumshubby at 8:25 AM on June 20, 2005



To play devil's advocate: how many arrests have been made based on reading lists?

Checking out various habits of people reading such books seems rather benign to me. Why should people feel violated by having their reading habits known? You are, after all, checking out a book from a public library?


Well, the biggest worry would be getting put on one of the secret stripsearch lists at the airport. That would be pretty damn annoying, I think.
posted by delmoi at 8:27 AM on June 20, 2005


If we want some security, we have to allow some efforts to prevent bad things from happening


"Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength"
posted by matteo at 8:27 AM on June 20, 2005


Dios, the next book you check out from the library should be one about history -- the history of governmental overreach and the role of surveillance in suppressing thought. Start with George Orwell's 1984, and continue through accounts of how the FBI probed into the personal details of the lives of such terrorists as... Martin Luther King... in attempts to discredit him as a homosexual.

It's fine to play the devil's advocate, but an uninformed devil's advocate can't do his job.
posted by digaman at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2005


You are sacrificing liberty when the government no longer has to show that you're a threat in order to get ahold of your library records. It's a violation of the fourth amendment. And the old argument "if you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have to worry," as always, doesn't hold water because the definition of "wrong" is so subjective. I should be able to read about Bin Laden without being put on a watch list.
posted by goatdog at 8:33 AM on June 20, 2005


I believe you're a fairly rabid right-winger?
posted by alasdair at 8:25 AM PST on June 20


Not at all. Just not a reactionary rabid left-winger.

As far as your hypo goes, what isn't really what this is about, is it? This is about looking for information about possible terrorist threats. There isn't any data mining being done to label people racists, etc. There were 200 requests in 4 years. Don't blow this out of proportion.

Well, the biggest worry would be getting put on one of the secret stripsearch lists at the airport. That would be pretty damn annoying, I think.
posted by delmoi at 8:27 AM PST on June 20


I would agree with this. I think airport security in its current incarnation is stupid and ineffective.

Start with George Orwell's 1984
posted by digaman at 8:32 AM PST on June 20

Thanks. I knew someone would throw out that tragically abused cliche. Go read about 1984. How in communist Eastern Bloc countries people were locked up or executed for reading a book that was a danger to the The Party... a book about people being locked up for reading a book that was a danger to the Party.

As I said, I'll hit the streets with you for that. But read about what those Czech people had to deal with, then read this story. It isn't even in the same universe. There have been inquiries in 4 years. No arrests.

It's a violation of the fourth amendment.
posted by goatdog at 8:33 AM PST on June 20


No. No, it's not.
posted by dios at 8:38 AM on June 20, 2005


The government hardly needs this power to go on extended fishing expeditions. The problems we had pre 9-11 were not of collection but in using intelligence. It also has the potential to be abused. Imagine how it would have looked to have been caught checking out the The Communist Manifesto during the 1950's. This sort of information could also be used against political enemies. If they had to go before a judge and get a search warrant before getting this kind of information it would go a long way toward stemming potential abuses.
posted by caddis at 8:42 AM on June 20, 2005


dios, go back to kuro5hin, you friggin' troll.
posted by keswick at 8:43 AM on June 20, 2005


Well, as much as I'm supposed to be positively overjoyed that there have been "no arrests" yet for people reading books, dios, I'm not. See, I'm one of those American citizens who think we should stop well shy of a totalitarian state, not just try to bitch about it once it's already happened.
  • "Perpetual war" -- check. See GWOT.
  • Newspeak -- check. See "Healthy Forests Initiative."
  • Ministry of Truth -- check. See Fox News, Office of Strategic Influence, etc.
  • Thought Police -- check. See this FPP, and former White House Secretary Ari Fleischer: "Americans... need to watch what they say, watch what they do."
The parallels are legion.
posted by digaman at 8:48 AM on June 20, 2005


keswick, dios is not being a troll just because his views differ from yours.
posted by caddis at 8:50 AM on June 20, 2005


I was under the impression that librarians weren't allowed to talk about the requests and therefor no one can really be sure of how many times the power has been used.
posted by dial-tone at 9:01 AM on June 20, 2005


Um, isn't this article a little late?

Granted, Bush may veto, but obviously there is momentum here.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:10 AM on June 20, 2005


Hasn't the house already specifically removed this provision from the Patriot Act? Making this whole post effectively moot?

On preview: what Pollomacho said.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:21 AM on June 20, 2005


"May?" The Patriot Act is one of Bush's pet projects.

"The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do—it has protected American liberty, and saved American lives." -- Bush, June 9.

C'mon.
posted by digaman at 9:22 AM on June 20, 2005


There were 200 requests in 4 years. Don't blow this out of proportion.


Dios, the problem with that is that according to the Patriot Act, libraries cannot legally report any requests made of their records. Nor can they advise patrons that a request has been made. I'm not sure how the stat of 200 requests came about, but I know if the records of my library had been requested twice in the last year, I couldn't say anything about it.

To counteract requests for patrons' circulation history many libraries have enacted policies that force our computer systems to dump all circulation records the minute the book is returned. That way no history of what books have been checked out and to what patron exists in the system. (Although the government is contemplating an addition to the Patriot Act that would make this illegal, which would totally screw my library because the system we use has no ability to retain circulation history by patron.) However, the Feds can still find out what you've currently got checked out or what you might have overdue.

The essential problem with this whole concept of the government monitoring what you are reading at libraries, is that libraries are intended to be areas of free information. If you feel you are being watched you are less and less likely to explore areas that you would like to keep private.

The way the Patriot Act stands, there doesn't have to be a reason for examination of the records. If the feds decide they want to know everyone who has checked out a book on being homosexual, they can get that information. They could then use that information to out individuals on that list. Or just out those individuals that are causing problems for the administration.

It's a horrible precedent and goes against everything this country stands for. There is no level of protection against *anything* that I'm willing to accept this level of privacy loss.

But that's just my personal opinion. I'd rather be free and dead than alive and caged.

On Preview, although the portion of the Act may be removed...I'm not sure the fight's done yet.
posted by teleri025 at 9:27 AM on June 20, 2005


dios, go back to kuro5hin, you friggin' troll.
posted by keswick at 10:43 AM CST on June 20 [!]


Good to know that regular metafilter users still label dissenting opinions with derogatory names rather than countering with real information or discussion.
posted by angry modem at 9:44 AM on June 20, 2005


There's plenty of discussion here. Let's keep it moving.
posted by digaman at 9:46 AM on June 20, 2005


The Patriot Act is not the first time that librarians have had to put themselves on the front lines of defending freedom against government intrusion into the lives of private citizens.
posted by digaman at 10:07 AM on June 20, 2005


Newspeak -- check. See "Healthy Forests Initiative."
You forgot Newspeak - "Patriot Act" and "Homeland Security". Check.
dios isn't really worth bothering to answer, but - what teleri025 and others have said.
I have another question/scenario re: using the internets at libraries.

At one library I occasionally visit, you fill out a form to use the computers and the clerk also scans your card. At another library, you log on at a PC terminal by entering your card number.

I know it would be a massive effort to try to monitor all library computer users. But - Wild Speculation - if they wanted to, couldn't a library or a third party "hacker" save information about what websites were visited, what keystrokes were entered, etc., along with that info about who had signed on to the computer?

Also, with the prevalence of security cameras, they could have a visual record of who was sitting at the computers at a certain time of day, and match that to any records of website activity. (For that matter, ditto on people who buy items using cash. There's still a record a purchase was made at XX time. And then a nice security-cam pic of you at that register.)

BTW at the second libary I cited above, near the front entrance's "Hours" sign, there's a reference (warning?) re: the Patriot Act's library provision. Without asking them, I've interpreted this as being their mild protest over having to comply with it.

[Oh, and if anyone from da gubmint is monitoring me - I still hate Bush with the heat of a thousand burning ANWR oil wells.]
posted by NorthernLite at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2005


NorthernLite, you're right about the warning. Our library put up such a notice the minute the Patriot Act went live and of course this got a number of students and faculty all freaked out about it. As it was intended to do.

As to the logging of activity on computers, it's possible, but the amount of computer brain-power would be terribly restricitive, not to mention the manpower to comb through the logs. Since I work at state university, we require students to log in and community members and alumni are given guest log ins as well. This is done because of the funding we use to maintain computer workstations is via a state grant designed to provide technology to the students.

But yeah. Patriot Act = bad; Library = Good.
posted by teleri025 at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2005


"May?" The Patriot Act is one of Bush's pet projects.

Yes may. The statement you quoted was from June 9th, a week later the House sent Bush a 238 to 187 message that he was going to have to play hardball if he wanted this bill.

On Preview, although the portion of the Act may be removed...I'm not sure the fight's done yet.

And what other clauses do you have problems with? Most of the rest is just an appropriations bill for law enforcement agencies or adds specific language to already existent law.

if they wanted to, couldn't a library or a third party "hacker" save information about what websites were visited

And by they you mean Major League Baseball, right?

USA PATRIOT is an acronym. It stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

Incidentally the Heritage Foundation's (Hitler) youth group, the America's Future Foundation, has a three part newsletter, the three parts are aptly named: Doublethink, Brainwash and Room 101. (They call themselves "classical liberals", if by liberal they mean fascist, then yes, I'd have to say they are pretty classically liberal)
posted by Pollomacho at 10:53 AM on June 20, 2005


As to the logging of activity on computers, it's possible, but the amount of computer brain-power would be terribly restricitive, not to mention the manpower to comb through the logs.

teleri025, you're assuming that all the correlation of user data would have to be done by hand, which is like assuming that Amazon couldn't possibly make customized user recommendations because who has time to read through all those books and orders?

The technology to track users like this automatically was perfected five years ago by a company called Autonomy in the UK. I wrote a cover article for Wired about it in 2000 that focused on the positive applications of the technology, such as in news-site search engines to suggest "other relevant articles," but pieces of that code ended up in ECHELON, I'm told.

Given lists of those who checked out certain books, it would be trivial for software like this -- which must have been massively refined in the last five years -- to spit out the names of readers interested in certain subjects, such as "terrorism" or "Marxism" or "vote fraud" or "homosexuality."

I'm glad you cleared up that acronym, Pollomacho. Obviously the word "appropriate" is in there because the word "alarming" would have been unnecessarily... alarming.
posted by digaman at 11:01 AM on June 20, 2005


I neglected to mention that one of the former directors of Autonomy was Richard Perle, one of the core neo-con architects of the Iraq War.

But don't be alarmed. Remain appropriate, citizens.
posted by digaman at 11:04 AM on June 20, 2005


I understand Dios' call for a pragmatic historical perspective. But it's exactly because intelligence agencies and lawmakers are implicitly suggesting that there is a direct relation between certain texts and certain beliefs that disqualifies, I think, such pragmatism as a viable option.

Read about Osama, in some sense be identified with Osama. That's nigh-bibliomantic, a vision of the Patriot Act as a Logos.

If, as was said earlier, the review tracked an interest in creating explosives rather than the biographies of America's foes, I'd consider it problematic, but free of some assumptive ideology other than a general desire for civic safety. What's really at stake seems to be the accretive creation of a new, fully Americanized Infernal Codex.
posted by Haruspex at 11:05 AM on June 20, 2005


dios, go back to kuro5hin, you friggin' troll.
Damn, we're not allowed to like kuro5hin and MetaFilter? Oh shit! What about Plastic? Slashdot? Is this in a FAQ?
posted by horseblind at 11:25 AM on June 20, 2005


The problem is not monitoring reading lists. It's the ignorant numbskulls that panic when there's a quotation written in the margin - "Look there, he's leaving clues!"
posted by iamck at 11:37 AM on June 20, 2005


This is why I download all of my pirate texts over the internet, on my neighbor's wireless connection.
posted by fenriq at 11:39 AM on June 20, 2005


digaman, aren't you assuming that Echelon actually exists and not a tin-foil hat theory? Also, Autonomy claims that no single industry sector contributes more than 10% of their business. If Echelon were actually up and running on their software, it would have to be a massive search and would require constant attention, this on its own would have to be a significant portion of their income. Autonomy made $16 in the first quarter of this year. That means the "public sector" industry (including defense and intel) only contributed $1.6 million. Less than two million dollars to provide search software to comb through every phone and email message on earth to find specific language?

Either their capabilities are simply amazing and effortless or they are really lowballing their contracts.

In my experience with intelligent search, we got about an 80% hit rate and it was extremely expensive, the only saver was that it took less time than a room full of people doing the same thing.

Read about Osama, in some sense be identified with Osama.

Hey, hold on, before anyone makes some sort of logical leap here that anyone who read about Osama is going to be monitored, there was one incident where they requested info on a specific book because they had a tip from a librarian. A repeal of patriot would still probably not changed that specific incident because they could always get a subpoena and a gag order with a tip. That evample is not an example of what people seem to fear, where government agencies do searches to draw leads, not where leads lead to searches.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:52 AM on June 20, 2005


Let's try that last sentence over:

The example is not an example of what people seem to fear, where government agencies do searches to draw leads, rather, its where leads lead to searches.

Wow, was that Rumsfeldian enough for ya?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:56 AM on June 20, 2005


Rock, paper, scissors. The Patriot Act trumps that very law. Nice huh?

The First Amendment trumps the USA PATRIOT Act, or should. Nice, huh?

Hasn't the house already specifically removed this provision from the Patriot Act? Making this whole post effectively moot?

Bush will at least try to veto it and that part of the current USA PATRIOT Act sunsets at the end of this year anyhow. There have been parts of what is being called PATRIOT II getting put into other bills and legislation.

This article is interesting because it's talking about visits by law enforcement generally, not USA PATRIOT Act visits in specific [because of the previously-mentioned secrecy issue, which is also the pesky first amendment issue I allude to above]. Law enforcement is welcome to come to a library with a warrant to get information like any other search they do. It's an open legal document that can be challenged in court, if anyone cares to do so. The USA PATRIOT Act says that law enforcement can use a FISA warrant which has a lower standard of proof required about possible associated crimes and is in and of itself secret, meaning much harder to challenge.

I'm no lawyer so you'll have to go to the ACLU for specifics, but it's not so much that libraries want to be safe places for criminals, but they want law enforcement to be actually able to prove they are going after criminals with their invasive searches for information and not just casting wide nets looking for bad guys. They want people to be comfortable exploring controversial topics [political or non] without worrying that someone is going to know about it and leap to conclusions.
posted by jessamyn at 12:00 PM on June 20, 2005


digaman, aren't you assuming that Echelon actually exists and not a tin-foil hat theory?... Also, Autonomy claims that no single industry sector contributes more than 10% of their business.

Autonomy is the name of the commercial arm of a set of development projects, some of which are non-commercial, including a company called Neurodynamics, and some of which are top secret. I spent several days in the UK with Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy and Neurodynamics, by the way, if you're wondering where I got my information.

From my article: "Working for, among others, companies in the British intelligence and defense industries, Neurodynamics uses neural-network technology and Bayesian methods to create applications that specialize in character, handwriting, and facial recognition, as well as surveillance. Lynch enjoyed cooking up solutions for high-level skunk works because, he says, 'they have the most interesting problems.' ... One of the interesting problems Lynch addressed for British intelligence was how to enable computers to make sense of large volumes of words in many languages for a top-secret project. The young entrepreneur, who didn't have the necessary security clearances, was never told what sort of texts the technology would analyze - intercepted email, faxes, leaked documents? - but was instructed to perform his operations on newspaper stories from around the world. Out of that work came the chunk of code called the Dynamic Reasoning Engine, the Bayesian heart of every Autonomy product."

So unless you have hard evidence that ECHELON doesn't exist, I'm not reaching for my tin-foil hat just yet, Pollo.

In my experience with intelligent search, we got about an 80% hit rate and it was extremely expensive

Well, somehow my local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, was able to afford using Autonomy software for several years to suggest relevant links to readers. When I was in the UK, the BBC told me they were planning on using it too. And if you're casting as broad a net as "Who's interested in reading about this Osama guy in a library?" 80 percent accuracy seems plenty.
posted by digaman at 12:21 PM on June 20, 2005


Echelon spy network revealed [BBC News | November 3, 1999]
posted by ericb at 12:29 PM on June 20, 2005


"The following documents provide insight into the creation, evolution, management and operations of NSA, including the controversial ECHELON program." [The National Security Archive].
posted by ericb at 12:33 PM on June 20, 2005


"The largest U.S. spy agency warned the incoming Bush administration in its 'Transition 2001' report that the Information Age required rethinking the policies and authorities that kept the National Security Agency in compliance with the Constitution's 4th Amendment prohibition on 'unreasonable searches and seizures' without warrant and "probable cause," according to an updated briefing book of declassified NSA documents posted today on the World Wide Web.

Wiretapping the Internet inevitably picks up mail and messages by Americans that would be 'protected' under legal interpretations of the NSA's mandate in effect since the 1970s, according to the documents that were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Dr. Jeffrey Richelson, senior fellow of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The NSA told the Bush transition team that the 'analog world of point-to-point communications carried along discrete, dedicated voice channels' is being replaced by communications that are 'mostly digital, carry billions of bits of data, and contain voice, data and multimedia,' and therefore, 'senior leadership must understand that today's and tomorrow's mission will demand a powerful, permanent presence on a global telecommunications network that will host the 'protected' communications of Americans as well as targeted communications of adversaries.' " [The National Security Archive | March 11, 2005].
posted by ericb at 12:38 PM on June 20, 2005


ECHELON does put the whole library thing into context. Here we are fretting over whether some FBI agent can see what books we read, when the government is likely combing through all of our most private communications with nary a peep of resistance.
posted by caddis at 1:04 PM on June 20, 2005


Well, caddis, that's just about the worst way to think about it that I can imagine. It's very important indeed that we "fret" about the FBI peering over our shoulders in a public library, particularly when the Bush administration has insisted that aren't doing so and will not do so in order to grease the passage of the act. Vigliance is important on many fronts at once -- it's not anyone can say, "Baghdad, Schmagdad -- we're all gonna die in global warming anyway!"
posted by digaman at 2:24 PM on June 20, 2005


Off-topic, but related...this just in:

Turning books into bits: Libraries face the digital future.
posted by ericb at 2:56 PM on June 20, 2005


So unless you have hard evidence that ECHELON doesn't exist, I'm not reaching for my tin-foil hat just yet, Pollo.

Um, I believe the burden of proof is on you to prove it does exist.

Let's just for a moment say it does exist. What would a government program like that cost billions? hundreds of billions? And all the software team can pull down is a couple of million. Not likely in the world of pork.

I used it for searches of corporate memo and email files to search for specific words and phrases for a legal defense team. It took about 2 weeks and yielded about 80%, we were charged a little more than we would have spent on a team of temps searching doc by doc for the same 2 weeks, of course humans would not have had the speed, but would have had far higher accuracy.

With the volume of digital media flowing through the world, Echelon would require the same types of searches to be run continually. What took us 2 weeks would have to be done in real time. For that, I'd think it would take a hell of an IT team and thus a lot of cash, cash that Autonomy is not pulling down.

From ecrib's quote:

"leadership must understand that today's and tomorrow's mission will demand a powerful, permanent presence on a global telecommunications network"

The line in context taken just before that one however states:

In addition, it states that "global networks leave US critical information infrastructure more vulnerable to foreign intelligence operations and to compromise by a host of non-state entities"

From ecrib's NSA Archive link, Document 27: Statement for the Record by Lieutenant General Michael V. Hayden, Director, National Security Agency/Central Security Service Before the Joint Inquiry of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, October 17, 2002, Unclassified:

"What is missing is a sense of how SIGINT is done. Thousands of times a day, our front line employees have to answer tough questions like: Who are the communicants? Do they seem knowledgeable? Where in the conversation do the key words or phrases come from?..."

"...If you were responsible for the management (or oversight) of NSA, you would have to ask a question like: Where was the information collected?...In what language?...Is there a machine that can sort these languages for you, or do you have to use a human? If there is such a machine does it work in a polyglot place where one conversation often comprises several languages? How long does it take to process this kind of material? (After all we are not the intended recipients of these communications) Does our current technology allow us to process it in a stream or do we have to do it in batches? When the data is processed, how do we review it - oldest to newest or newest first?... Without explaining the context in which SIGINT operates, unauthorized disclosures do not inform public discourse; they misshape it."

"The volume, variety and velocity of human communications makes our mission more difficult each day.... We had competed against a resource-poor, oligarchic, technologically inferior, and overly bureaucratic nation state. Now we had to keep pace with a global telecommunications revolution, probably the most dramatic revolution in human communications since Gutenberg's invention of movable type... To be sure, we were still producing actionable SIGINT - in some ways the best we had produced - but we were accessing and processing a smaller portion of that which could and should have been available to us. To put it succinctly, we did not know [about 9/11 - my edit]. Public commentary on this usually comes at us in the form of 'the agency failed to keep up with technology.' Actually, we have made substantial progress but I would agree that we have a long way to go. We are digging out of a deep hole."

" ...Three weeks ago we awarded a contract for nearly $300 million to a private firm to develop TRAILBLAZER, our effort to revolutionize how we produce SIGINT in a digital age. And last week we cemented a deal with another corporate giant to jointly develop a system to mine data that helps us learn about our targets."

"... Congress has also said that we listened in on 'large volumes of phone calls from the part of the world where al-Qa'ida was located but didn't focus on al-Qa'ida." That is, frankly, incorrect... We were focusing on al-Qa'ida. But did we have enough linguists and analysts focused on the problem? Clearly we could have used more... We needed to put more analysts and linguists across the Agency - period."

Sounds to me that they do have some capabilities, however its is FAR from the big brother that people fear. Apparently Autonomy is not the ones profiting from the NSA's work. Incidentally, I work for a government agency and we could care less what you read. Besides, I have to fill out a form to sharpen a pencil, you think we could be watching your every move without someone, hell everyone, knowing?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:59 PM on June 20, 2005


keswick, dios is not being a troll just because his views differ from yours.

Just wanted to repeat that so those who missed it the first time can absorb it.

Me, I've got books by Marx, Bakunin, Lenin, Trotsky, Hitler, and the Ayatollah Khomeini right here in my own home, and god knows what I've checked out of libraries over the years. Bring it on, baby!
posted by languagehat at 3:03 PM on June 20, 2005




Because if you're literate, the terrorists win.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2005


orwell was off by 21 years
posted by Hands of Manos at 4:08 PM on June 20, 2005


teleri025 : To counteract requests for patrons' circulation history many libraries have enacted policies that force our computer systems to dump all circulation records the minute the book is returned. That way no history of what books have been checked out and to what patron exists in the system.

I recently ran into that at my local library when I asked them if I could have a list of books that I'd read. (There were a couple that I wanted to get as gifts for friends, but I couldn't remember the title/author and was hoping that if I saw it on a list, it would jog my memory.) The librarian told me that the system automatically flushed the data as soon as they were returned, but didn't want to get drawn into a conversation about the Patriot Act during working hours. Still, I"m so proud of my librarians. :)
posted by dejah420 at 6:03 PM on June 20, 2005


Me: if they wanted to, couldn't a library or a third party "hacker" save information about what websites were visited
---
Pollomacho: And by they you mean Major League Baseball, right?


No actually I meant US Figure Skating.

BTW I'll save VaterLand Security time and effort by informing them (it?) what's on my current reading list:
A book about hiking in Michigan (by Congressman David Bonior - Democrat!), a book about Stradivari and a Linda Fairstein mystery.


Oh, also "The Idiot's Guide to Overthrowing the Government."

P.S. Bush still sucks.
posted by NorthernLite at 5:00 AM on June 21, 2005


ECHELON does exist - it's just that they don't call it that internally. I know some people at Cheltenham (working at GCHQ - the UK's NSA) whose job involves working the "take" from various ground stations and sharing it with other governments.

And no, they didn't break the OSA to tell me that, and no, I am not breaking the OSA to tell you that. You might want to look it up on the internet - here is a starting point for you. It's not quite as scary as people make out (they miss a lot out simply because processing that amount of info is difficult, especially when myself and my wife are talking JIHAD on NUKE the BUSH phone ALLAH together).
posted by longbaugh at 6:06 AM on June 21, 2005


Librarians assail record ‘fishing expeditions’
Group documents 268 law enforcement requests for reading records
[Reuters | June 21, 2005]
posted by ericb at 1:44 PM on June 21, 2005


In related news ...

Feds collect data on air travelers again
Extensive personal information stored on CD-ROMs

"The federal agency in charge of aviation security collected extensive personal information about airline passengers even though Congress forbade it and officials said they wouldn’t do it, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press."
[Associated Press | June 21, 2005]
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2005


Maybe I led a very sheltered childhood, but I never thought I'd see Americans arguing in favor of secret government monitoring of reading habits.

Get out of my country. We don't want any.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:53 PM on June 21, 2005


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