Information Update - Fall 2005
The Patriot Act: Some Recent Developments
However, in July, following the bombings in London, the House voted to make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire. Two other provisions, including the one which allows the government to go to a secret court for permission to search a variety of personal records, including library records, were extended for 10 years. In the months ahead, the Senate will be considering its own reauthorization of the Act.
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by the American Library Association surveyed 1500 public libraries and 4000 academic libraries to determine how often libraries have been contacted by law enforcement agencies since October 2001 when the Patriot Act was passed. During this time there have been 137 formal requests or demands for information and 66 informal inquiries made to the libraries surveyed. The study could not directly ask how or whether the Patriot Act has been used to search libraries since those who receive certain types of demands for records are prohibited from challenging the order or telling anyone that they have received such an order. However, one of the libraries was the Whatcom County system in rural northwest Washington. In June 2004 a library user noticed that a book entitled Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, had a handwritten note in the margin stating that “Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God.” The FBI was informed by the patron, and agents went to the library to obtain names and information on who had checked out the book. The library’s lawyers turned down the request and fought a subsequent subpoena, after which the FBI withdrew its demand. (Eric Lichtblau, “Libraries Say Yes, Officials Do Quiz Them About Users,” The New York Times, 20 June 2004, p A11)
The only certainty is that more controversy, legislation, and violence in the months ahead will keep the debate on the balance between preparedness and civil liberties an ongoing issue for a very long time.