This chilling editorial by Nat Hentoff for the Village Voice provides some enlightening information about the absurdity of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act which enable law enforcement and government agencies to force libraries and bookstores to hand over their records and furthermore does not allow them to talk about it publicly.
Big John Wants Your Reading List.
Posted by Lisa at March 08, 2002 10:39 AM | TrackBack
This is now the law, and as I wrote last week, the FBI, armed with a warrant or subpoena from the FISA court, can demand from bookstores and libraries the names of books bought or borrowed by anyone suspected of involvement in "international terrorism" or "clandestine activities."
Once that information is requested by the FBI, a gag order is automatically imposed, prohibiting the bookstore owners or librarians from disclosing to any other person the fact that they have received an order to produce documents.
You can't call a newspaper or a radio or television station or your representatives in Congress. You can call a lawyer, but since you didn't have any advance warning that the judge was issuing the order, your attorney can't have objected to it in court. He or she will be hearing about it for the first time from you...
...As I often do when Americans' freedom to read is imperiled, I called Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. I've covered, as a reporter, many cases of library censorship, and almost invariably, the beleaguered librarians have already been on the phone to Judy Krug. She is the very incarnation of the author of the First Amendment, James Madison.
When some librarians—because of community pressure or their own political views, right or left—have wanted to keep books or other material from readers, Judy has fought them. She is also the leading opponent of any attempt to curb the use of the Internet in public libraries.
As she has often said, "How can anyone involved with libraries stand up and say, 'We are going to solve problems by withholding information'?"
I called to talk with her about the FBI's new power to force libraries to disclose the titles of books that certain people are reading—and she, of course, knew all about this part of the USA Patriot Act. And the rest of it, for that matter.
She told me how any library can ask for help—without breaking the gag order and revealing a FISA visit from the FBI. The librarian can simply call her at the American Library Association in Chicago and say, "I need to talk to a lawyer," and Judy will tell her or him how to contact a First Amendment attorney...
George Orwell said: "If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."
Today, the public doesn't even know about this provision in the strangely titled USA Patriot Act. A lot of people are still afraid to get on a plane. Is Ashcroft fearful that if people find out about his interest in what they're reading, they'll be afraid to go to libraries and bookstores—and will start asking questions about what the hell he thinks he's doing? And where is Congress?