Welcome to the public library. Please check your rights at the door.
November 6, 2002 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to the public library. Please check your rights at the door. The Patriot Act contains provisions that gag librarians when subpoenaed (from a secret court!) for circulation records. Seems like in at least one place, it's already being used. How about your own library?
posted by Cerebus (29 comments total)
Ha! I don't go to the library! I buy my copies of "Catcher in the Rye" in retail stores like every God-fearing American. (Take THAT Ashcroft!)
posted by BartFargo at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2002

A librarian at my university library told me they're keeping sparse records so that when any information is requested, they won't have much to say. She hinted that many librarians are subtly doing what they can to keep this stupid law from violating library users' rights. Of course, none of them are too noisy about their policies. Don't worry, more likely than not, your local librarian is looking out for you.
posted by katieinshoes at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2002

Except that the same provision in the Patriot Act gags booksellers subpoenaed regarding book purchases as well. Got you coming anf going, BartFargo.
posted by Cerebus at 7:12 AM on November 6, 2002

That's why I pilfer books from the bookstore. duh.
posted by tolkhan at 7:21 AM on November 6, 2002

Here's the text of the USA PATRIOT Act. Look at section 215. Here's a letter from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) to booksellers issued shortly after the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. Here's a notice of the ABFFE and ACLU's request for information under the FOIA. Here's notice of the suit that the ACLU, ABFFE, EPIC, and the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Foundation filed against Ashcroft and Justice to get the information that Justice refused to supply about how many subpoenas have been served under the USA PATRIOT Act. The basics: the above organizations are worried that the DoJ is using the USA PATRIOT Act abusively, so they asked how often subpoenas are being served. Justice refused to answer. The House Judiciary Committee requested that the DoJ comply with the FOIA request. DoJ refused to answer. Now they're being sued. It could be happening all over the place, and we have no idea, because nobody's allowed to talk about it when the subpoenas are served. It's section 215. It's a fascinating read.
posted by dilettanti at 7:28 AM on November 6, 2002

I know at my alma mater they destroy any records as soon as you return the book. At most the government would find out what books you had at the moment.

If you're really worried, why not just curl up with the book in the nearest cubicle?
posted by Kovax at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2002

The most effective technique against this is jamming, unfortunately most people don't want to jam, even if they're against the Patriot Act, because it means that an FBI file would probably be opened against them if the FBI happens to be tapping the location they're jamming from. Jamming means purposely borrowing/buying or surfing materials the FBI would consider questionable even if you don't believe in that particular agenda.
posted by substrate at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2002

This is a ridiculous law, but in practical terms it's probably not as dire as it seems — like katieinshoes, I asked the librarians at the public library here about their policies and was told that they don't keep individual circulation records after you return a book. This is, I think, a fairly widespread practice. (Of course, if you happen to still have Erwin Strauss's Basement Nukes checked out when the Feds come knocking, you're screwed anyway.)

This has been hashed out in the courts so many times I'm surprised the law was passed. The ACLU is looking for a suitably pissed-off librarian to challenge these provisions of the Patriot Act.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:41 AM on November 6, 2002

I used to wonder in high school whether the guidance counselor looked over my selection of books with puzzlement, and alarm bells were going off that maybe I wasn't Christian, and she was going to call my parents. That was before it occurred to me that maybe she had something better to do than be nosy for the sake of being nosy. Or that the high school library doesn't really have anything "dangerous." :)
posted by Foosnark at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2002

Putting aside legal/moral concerns, it there really were books in libraries that would compromise national security if they were read, wouldn't the more efficient route be to ban the books, rather than leaving them on the shelf and then arresting people for reading them?
posted by boltman at 8:07 AM on November 6, 2002

...if there really were books in libraries that would compromise national security if they were read, wouldn't the more efficient route be to ban the books, rather than leaving them on the shelf and then arresting people for reading them?
posted by boltman at 8:07 AM PST on November 6

I believe the technical term is a "honeypot." Easy availability of "The Anarchist Cookbook" for instance provides an efficient way to track potential trouble makers. Also, banning books is more controversial than tracking library records (though not by much).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:16 AM on November 6, 2002

How about the fake ID to get a library card gig?
posted by Plunge at 8:21 AM on November 6, 2002

I'm not calling double post (although it's close), but the issue has been fairly well debated here.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2002

well, if the feds check this particular anti-american's card, they'll find Mein Kampf, How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, about 20 books about cats, a couple issues of Highlights and Psychology Today, The Collapse of Evolution (which is hilarious!), Stupid White Men, How To Overthrow The Government, and just about every William Wegman book the county has.

pretty incriminating stuff, huh?
posted by mcsweetie at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2002

Putting aside legal/moral concerns, it there really were books in libraries that would compromise national security if they were read, wouldn't the more efficient route be to ban the books, rather than leaving them on the shelf and then arresting people for reading them?

In addition to PST's comment above, the problem is, ad I understand it, not inherent in the books. Rather, certain books can teach skills which might be useful to troublemakers. Those same skills, however, are likely to be useful in a number of other contexts. An appropriate analogy might be made to fertilizer. Used properly, it can nourish and sustain growing crops. Improperly, it can blow things up.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2002

pardonyou?: I saw that, but the difference here is it seems that the FBI is now *certainly* exercising its powers, whereas back in June it was merely suspected.

And given the election results, does anyone expect the DoJ to get called on it again?
posted by Cerebus at 9:08 AM on November 6, 2002

I do concur that everyone should read Section 215 (especially) of the act. Some key points:

* No records subpoena may be initiated solely on the basis of protected political activities. (Say, checking out The Anarachist Cookbook.)
* All subpoenas are duly entered through the secret intelligence court. Although this court has granted almost all warrants presented, it has also delivered a scathing criticism to the FBI and DOJ regarding the mixing of evidence for terrorism and criminal investigations. Its members are drawn from the regular federal courts, for single non-renewable terms, so they are representative of the sitting judiciary.
* Subpoenas and wiretaps may not be entered for general monitoring, ever. They must relate to a specific terrorism investigation, ideally an individual person (whether or not that person's identity is yet known). See S211-214. Evidence collected that points to other unconnected criminal activities (say, by another user of the same computer) may not be used to initiate a criminal investigation and would not be permissibly entered in court.
* Oversight materials may not have been provided to the ACLU, but they are provided to the elected legislative committees with appopriate authority.
* A very important point is that S215 is one of many provisions given a December 31, 2005 sunset. (The wiretap provisions were not.)

Whether that makes you more comfortable or not depends at least on whether you believe that congressional and judicial oversight are sufficient. Though one may not agree with where the line was drawn, there was a conscious effort to craft the legislation with nods to protecting individual rights and setting strict limitations. It's right to be concerned, but I don't find that there is authority to generally "bug libraries" or randomly troll through check-out records as the columnist implies.

That there has been an increase in warrants and subpoenas under the act is implied by the increase from 7 to 11 of FISA judges.
posted by dhartung at 9:56 AM on November 6, 2002

Don't worry, more likely than not, your local librarian is looking out for you.

I've always considered librarians to be up there with cops and firefighters in the "noble, underappreciated professions" category.
posted by oissubke at 10:00 AM on November 6, 2002

dhartung makes good points. It's fine to criticize something, but you should at least criticize what it actually is. In this case, this act does not allow law enforcement to simply show up and ask for your records. As I stated in the earlier thread:

The FBI can not simply walk into a library and ask for your records, or do a search of all users to see whether someone checked out a particular book. If, on the other hand, you are a terrorist suspect, and there is sufficient evidence of that to kick in the government's investigative powers, then your records might be searched to see what kind of books you might have checked out. I can think of types of books that aren't (obviously) illegal, but could provide law enforcement with additional information on which to pursue their investigation.

And again, whether the book is problematic in the abstract isn't the issue. Nor is the act of renting a book itself. The question is whether knowing which book a particular suspect checked out could prove helpful in the investigation of a criminal matter. Again, as I said in the other thread:

I can conceive of a situation in which the U.S. has reason to believe an individual has connections to al Queda. They ask the library he is known to frequent to produce the list of items the man has checked out. I would think that if he has checked out books that discuss the explosive qualities of fertilizer, or how to fly a plane, or charts of the local water supply, that might just be helpful information for an investigation.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:18 AM on November 6, 2002

My friend the librarian tells me that one of the requirements for any professional library software is that it destroy the link between patron and book as soon as the book is returned. The ALA and other library organizations are definitely concerned about this. The ALA Advocacy page links to some very interesting material.
posted by SealWyf at 10:25 AM on November 6, 2002

No records subpoena may be initiated solely on the basis of protected political activities. (Say, checking out The anarchist Cookbook.)

That 'solely' is key, though, isn't it?

All subpoenas are duly entered through the secret intelligence court. Although this court has granted almost all warrants presented, it has also delivered a scathing criticism to the FBI and DOJ

First, thanks for the link. It's heavy reading, but much appreciated. Second, decisions on the subpoenas are ex parte, meaning essentially that the party being subpoenaed can't challenge or oppose it. Finally, it isn't clear that the gag order even permits normal legal counsel. The ABFFE seems to think it does, but it's not clear to me. Until I know how that plays out, I'll exercise my skeptic tendencies.
posted by dilettanti at 10:30 AM on November 6, 2002

The article also alleges that the FBI is gathering information from public computers under the auspices of the Patriot Act. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate nature of monitoring software--particularly on public systems--makes it difficult to separate the data that can be legally collected from the data that cannot. IOW, if there's a tap on a public computer, how can that tap distinguish the innocent from the suspect?

And, as far as trust in judicial oversight goes, we are talking about the organization that snubbed its own Congressional oversight committee.
posted by Cerebus at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2002

sealwyf: Many of the librarians think the link is broken. I know for a fact that the popular circulation software used in my library keeps track of the last three patrons who checked out each item.

Let's also remember that librarians are as diverse as the rest of the population. After 9/11 one of the librarians I work with wanted me to go back six months and check Internet sign-in logs. Why? Because she remembered someone "foreign and suspicious" using one of the PCs around that time.

For stats keeping we require to sign you in to use the Internet. No one requires me to keep the logs. I shred them the first of each month. I have set all Internet PCs to delete all temp files, cookies, etc. each evening. I start each machine using DHCP and every request is through a proxy.

I know I haven't covered everything, but if they do want to watch what you're doing at my library I'm not going to make it easy.

And if you're worried about a gag order...just ask your librarian if there is one. When you stop hearing "no" stop using the library PCs.
posted by ?! at 4:53 PM on November 6, 2002

According to This Hartford Courant article, the FBI is bugging internet use of the computers at at least one library. Pretty chilling if true.
posted by cps at 6:30 PM on November 6, 2002

Uhh, cps-- that's the article the post links to in the first place.

But thanks for playing. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 8:32 PM on November 6, 2002

Whoops, didn't check the link.

I skipped across this thread originally because I was already aware of circulation info, gag orders and such introduced by the PATRIOT act.

When I came across the linked article (via RISKS), I posted to this thread because I thought it relevant: the news being that the FBI (allegedly) is wiretapping the public library net terminals.

How come nobody's discussing that aspect in this thread? Me no get it.
posted by cps at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2002

I work in a library, and I can tell you that bringing back the book is not enough. Bring it back on time. If we don't have to charge you a fine, we don't have to keep a record that tells us what you borrowed, when it was due, and when you returned it. If we charge someone money, it has to be documented and justified, and that particular record may never go away.
Also, some libraries that allow people to access their patron records over the web only ask for a SSN and a last name. I would be surprised if the FBI or others didn't give this a shot once they'd identified someone they were interested in and knew which libraries they might hold privileges at.
posted by trondant at 9:33 PM on November 6, 2002

Inb fct the stroy is all wrong. Here is a letter to me from the reporter:

FROM Bill Olds

RE: Libraries & FBI

DATE: Nov. 6, 2002

In the interest of good journalism, I feel obligated to report the following to you.

The FBI released a letter today originally sent to the publisher of the Hartford Courant

Michael J. Wolf, special agent in charge (Connecticut) says that on September 26, 2002, a search warrant …was executed at the main branch of the Hartford Public Library. A specific computer ...had been used to ‘hack’ into a business computer system in California for criminal purposes…The search warrant authorized seizing evidence of criminal activity from the computer. The computer was never removed from the library, nor was any software installed on this or any other computer in the Hartford Public Library by the FBI to monitor computer use.”

Special Agent Wolfe of the FBI goes on to say, “Mr. Olds predicates his outrageously fallacious column on the premise that the FBI has bugged Hartford library computers, and from that false premise, proceeds to draw improper conclusions and wrongfully accuses the government of violating our citizens’ right to privacy. It is troubling that Mr. Olds has fabricated such an unfounded column, but it is even more troubling that you elected to print it without any effort to determine whether it even had a slight ring of credibility. His column was sensational, irresponsible and most importantly untrue, and is a disservice to the readers of the Hartford Courant. In keeping the public informed, I trust that you will share this with your readers.”

As a result of this letter, Hartford Courant editors asked me to attend a meeting today to discuss the matter. The director of investigative reporting was also present, and said they had spoke to the head librarian in Hartford who confirmed the FBI’s version. Reporters could not find any information that supported the sources of my story. I was asked to double check with my unnamed sources, and I did so this evening.

The sources have revised their report. Here is what they said tonight: “At the time of the FBI visit, we were convinced that special-surveillance software was being inserted into the library’s system. There had been many discussions – from library groups and the media – that the FBI may be using library computers to track their use in the search for terrorists.

“The combination of the FBI’s presence in the library with a subpoena and its examination of a computer firmly persuaded us that a surveillance system was being established.

“Today, in light of the head librarian’s explanation and the FBI’s
acknowledgement of the library visit, upon reflection we are no longer sure of that earlier assessment. We may have misinterpreted the events.”

Reply Reply All Forward Delete Put in Folder...InboxSent MessagesDraftsTrash Candumpsaved mail Previous Next | Close
posted by Postroad at 2:37 AM on November 7, 2002

Postroad: Thanks for the update.

My question to the FBI now is, did they execute the warrant under the auspices of the Patriot Act or not? If so, it seems to me that they're misusing the act as it is *not* intended as a cover for criminal investigations, but for terrorism investigations (not that I think there needs to be a distinction between the two, but that's what the Act specifically intends).

It seems that they were abusing the act, IMHO, as the response of the librarians indicated they were placed under gag orders.
posted by Cerebus at 6:41 AM on November 7, 2002

« Older Tired of the same old Acapella?   |   A Gallery of Bookplates. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments