WA Library TO File Motion to Quash FBI Subpoena

Story from the Western Front on efforts by the Whatcom County Rural Library District (in Bellingham, Washington) to quash a subpoena requiring the disclosure of the names and addresses of people who borrowed the book, "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America."

An unnamed library patron at the Deming Branch found a passage written in the margin of the book, and contacted an FBI agent with the information. The handwritten note read as follows:


    "If the things I'm doing is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God."

Agent James Powers contacted the library district after receiving this information, and requested further information on the book, which an unnamed library employee denied.

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Re: naughty patron

Well, it was not a very smart patron who scribbled those notes - writing in library books is a no-no, isn't it? I'd find it interesting to know the exact contents of the page that this apparent quote from Ben Laden was written upon.

As for the legality of the FBI's search with subpoena in hand, I can't speak to that.

I do wonder, however, if the scrawled note was a personal remark or an historical reference? Either way, it's not wise to write in the marigins of any book that doesn't belong to you - and if the FBI has their way, this patron will find out the hard way, that's for sure.

Faulty logic

The logic the FBI is using here would work if you found a dead body in the trunk of a rental car. Finding out who rented the car would be a good place to start.Rental car companies, though, don't allow everybody in town to drive the cars around the lot and only make you rent them if you want to take one home.But now I'm curious. Does King County retain historic circ info?

Well, Faulty something...

e.g. this librarians brain.Not King County. Whatcom County Rural Library District. They use Dynix's Horizon, which has all the fancy personalization features that seem like a nice idea until the FBI starts asking questions.

Re:Well, Faulty something...

On the other hand, those of us who support civil liberties would take the position that if there isn't enough to get a warrant then the agent shouldn't be asking those questions.

Re: naughty patron

I would have thought that in a library it's not just going to be the people who borrow it that might be the ones who the FBI 'should' be after, surely they need to be in the libraries watching every person who reads any related books, watch out they'll be wanting an FBI snitch in each library soon!

Seriously though, surely the easiest thing they could have done instead of a subpoena is to get someone to borrow the book then fingerprint it?

Re: naughty patron

opaqueentity, I'm not sure if your whole post was meant as tongue in cheek or not but here's my take on the dusting for prints idea:

Thankfully, the population en masse has yet to be finger printed and I'm going to hazard a guess here that the finger prints on this book would be of the person that shelved it last, along with countless others - and mostly smudged.

Think of all the people who've probably handled that book and never even "taken it out"?!

Open stacks?

One thing that bothers me that if the library is an open stacks library, then ANYONE could have written whatever they want in any book. It doesn't always follow that only patrons who check items out of the library are the only ones who deface or damage them.

Check out records aren't a smoking gun.

Re:Open stacks?

Yes, and often the ones who damage books are smart enough to not check it out precisely so that they don't get caught. My library has a problem patron we can't catch who routinely damages certain kinds of books, but always reshelves them so it takes a while to notice...

Re: naughty patron

It was tongue in cheek :) just an example of what they could do, and legally as well I guess as long as it's a member of the library who takes out the book.

The population enmasse may not have bee fingerprinted but an awful lot will have been. Anyone in a government job maybe, every police/federal agency, prisoners, anyone who came through immigration (and now everyone who comes into the country has to have their photo and fingerprints taken so thats another group if they are all easily searchable).

I'm sure quite a few sets of clear fingerprints could be found, and they way they work they'd only need to look for arab sounding names anyway wouldn't they?

>Think of all the people who've probably handled that book and never even "taken it out"?!

Yes, but the thing is that the FBI and the Patriot Act generally seems to assume that 'such people that pose a threat' will be taking the books out and potentially leave a trail, if they were upto something wouldn't it be better not to advertise the fact and only read the book in the library?

Re: Open stacks? Open books and an open society.

Gee, I just keep thinking if they'd only kept on with those check out cards in the backs of the books See Robert Klose's article - perhaps Ashcroft might like to reinstitute them?

Of course Fang-Face your suggestion that they'e need enough (of what exactly? paranoia? suspicion?) to get a warrant seems as though it would have to happen - but maybe Homeland Security overrides that part of the law? :- (

opaqueenity, you're right one would think that if someone were plotting something they wouldn't be so dumb as to pencil in their jihad notes in the margins of this particular book, but - and lucky for us - all terrorists are not always quite so good at subtlety. Don't get me wrong - my guess is that this was not scribbled by a member of a cell, but by some thoughtless reader who needed to remind him or herself of that famous quote.

Really, Jet and April your posts both illustrate the unlikely nature of the “clue� amounting to anything because as you say “open stacks� do make for an open society, as it were, in the library - including, of all things, self shelving! ;-)

Even though I wax nostalgic over those library back of the book check out cards, perhaps someone's “privacy� is being protected after all, because now the agents that swarm over the stacks won't be find out who the last 50 readers were, at least not quite so easily.

Writing Notes in Margins

How they know the reader wasn't writing down a quote or idea from somewhere else, because it related to the material on the page? I do that from time to time in my own (non-library) books. Also, the note could have been written in the book without it having been checked out.
That, to me, shows how looking at patron records is faulty logic in this case. It might help them find the person who wrote it, or it might not. And even if they do find the person, he or she could have written it without sinister intention or terrorist leanings.

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