The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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PATRIOT Games

FBI authorized to use public’s library cards

Since the tragedy of Sept. 11 last year, The Daily Campus editorial board has stood in staunch opposition to sweeping reforms granting the government and FBI power to snoop into our private and personal lives. An Oct. 5 editorial on Internet privacy stated, “The price of [protecting the public from crime] should not be the abrogation of an individual’s privacy.” A June 5 editorial on Attorney General John Ashcroft lifting regulations on the FBI stated, “While the changing guidelines may not cause any problems now, they are a stepping stone for something that is far worse — a loss of fundamental freedoms.”

Now, a survey released by the University of Illinois shows that of 1,503 public libraries, 85 reported that the FBI or local law enforcement authorities have requested information about patrons since Sept. 11 under the guise of the “Patriot act.” The survey was done three weeks after the act was passed, meaning that the number of libraries searched will have definitely increased.

The editorial board is forced to repeat itself.

According to The Dallas Morning News, the USA PATRIOT act contains a provision allowing FBI agents to investigate the reading habits of citizens. That allows agents to examine bookstores, libraries and library records of Internet searches. Needless to say, the act, coming six weeks after the terrorist attacks, was passed by Congress with very little debate.

What makes this provision frightening, however, is that the search, done under subpoena from a “spy court,” is guarded with intense secrecy. Individuals under investigation are never informed of it, and are thus unable to argue against the search in court. It’s a criminal offense for a librarian or bookstore owner to reveal the existence of such a search, despite the fact that most states outlaw disclosing library records.

The Justice Department can’t even disclose how many times the act has been used, although the University of Illinois estimates that more than 200 libraries have been contacted.

In no way is a provision like this constitutional. It violates the Bill of Rights, state laws and provides no opportunities to safeguard against abuses. It very literally personifies the collective nightmare of secret “thought police.”

The Department of Justice claims that terrorist activity has to be involved for a search to be made. But the PATRIOT act also broadens the definition of terrorist acts to include “domestic terrorism:” acts that “appear to be intended … to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Political dissent and protest activity could clearly fall into this category. In addition, the search is warrant-less – the definition of terrorist activity is left up to FBI agents, and all they have to do is convince a judge that their search encompasses national security.

The provision also makes the fundamental mistake of assuming people who might read a certain book title can be considered terrorists. This is not true even of people who read something like The Anarchist’s Cookbook. While a list of a person’s reading materials might be enlightening as to their interests, it says about as much about their daily activities as their trash. After all, if every person who played “Grand Theft Auto III” were a criminal, half of America’s population under 21 would probably be in jail.

And the sad truth is that monitoring a terrorist’s library list will not prevent him from getting access to information he can find somewhere else. It only results in increased paperwork, paranoia and headaches for the FBI.

While other provisions from the PATRIOT act are being contested, one allowing government searching of a person’s library account should definitely be first among those thrown out. In fact, if the University of Illinois’ survey is to be believed, the act should have been thrown out a long time ago.

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