reading over your shoulder
Many years ago, I worked in a community college library as a ciruclation supervisor.
One day a mother of a student came in to speak to me. She explained that she was sure there was something wrong with her daughter, that the daughter was hiding something terrible from her. If she could just look at the books her child had taken out recently (as she knew her daughter spent a lot of time in the library), perhaps she could discern what the problem was.
I had no idea what the rules and regulations for this sort of thing were; I hadn't been prepared something like this. I had a feeling there would be some kind of privacy law regarding this thing, so I talked out of my ass for a few minutes, citing statutes and laws that prohibit the divulging of such personal information. Besides, I told the mother, we were not yet computerized like some of the bigger libraries. Everything was done by hand and it would be near impossible to figure out what her daughter had been reading.
The woman then went over my head to one of the directors of the library. He took pity on her and said he would see what he could do. As (the mother's) luck would have it, her daughter had several overdue books, so her name and the cards for those books were on file.
It seems she had been taking out books on both abortion and adoption. To further fuel the mother's suspicions, the director also discovered that the daughter had photocopied several articles on the emotional effects of abortion, and on giving up a child for adoption.
I don't know what happened between that mother and child after that. For all anyone knows, the girl was doing research for a project. Perhaps our director unwittingly started a family argument where none should have taken place. Perhaps he gave the mother reason to distrust her daughter.
That story is just part of the reason why I am strongly against Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Section 215: Access to Records Under Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA)
Allows an FBI agent to obtain a search warrant for “any tangible thing,” which can include books, records, papers, floppy disks, data tapes, and computers with hard drives.
Permits the FBI to compel production of library circulation records, Internet use records, and registration information stored in any medium.
Does not require the agent to demonstrate “probable cause,” the existence of specific facts to support the belief that a crime has been committed or that the items sought are evidence of a crime. Instead, the agent only needs to claim that he believes that the records he wants may be related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities, a very low legal standard.
Libraries or librarians served with a search warrant issued under FISA rules may not disclose, under of penalty of law, the existence of the warrant or the fact that records were produced as a result of the warrant. A patron cannot be told that his or her records were given to the FBI or that he or she is the subject of an FBI investigation.
Overrides state library confidentiality laws protecting library records.
While at first glance it may seem that this part of the Patriot Act is used merely to combat terrorism, you can imagine that the powers-that-be can find loophole upon loophole to to use this act to extract information that has nothing to do with terrorism at all.
The thought that there is even the slightest chance that what we do is being watched by those above us is enough to make me wary about what books I check out or buy.
What would a government agency make of the list of reading material you have purchased or took out from the library lately? Granted, they should have a cause for caring about your reading habits but one never knows what might make the men in black decide that you need to be watched. Could be someone called 1-800-TIPS and told them about all of your anti-Bush rumblings on your website? Maybe your neighbor fears that mound of fertilizer in your back yard because she heard that it could be used to make bombs, so she dials 911 and says she has a potential terrorist living next door to her. Have you shown up at any kind of protest lately? Belong to an anarachist group? Condemned the Patriot Act on a message board? Sent a joking email to a friend who works in a government building that you wanted to kill your boss?
Don't kid yourself. You are being watched. If not by the government then by your neighbors, your teachers, the traffic light with a camera installed inside.
It will only take one instance of an expired registration on your car or a bumper sticker that says "Repeal the Patriot Act" or purchasing a book about terrorism that will give them cause to ask your library to turn over an entire printout of books you have read since the fifth grade.
Look, she took out "How to Eat Fried Worms" four times last year!
Isn't fried worms a delicacy in Pakistan?
You're right! Seize her!
The one thing we can do is not be afraid. Go ahead and take out that book on semi-automatic guns. Buy that Soldier of Fortune magazine. Look up articles on Hitler on the library's computer. We have nothing to fear but the fear police themselves. And when they come to get us, we can beat them down with the heavy weighted copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Of course, we'll be dragged away for practicing witchcraft then, and they'll claim you turned one of the agents into a newt while they tried to arrest you.
Celebrate your Freedom to Read. Really, if you can't check out Goodnight Moon without some spying fool going off on a wide tangent and assuming you are about to Nuke the Moon, then the terrorists have one.