A Guide to the Patriot Act, Part 1

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Anonymous Patron writes "This article from Slate has a nice summary of the provisions of section 215 of the Patriot act. One interesing quote:

Within months after Sept. 11, federal or local officials visited nearly 10 percent of the nation's public libraries "seeking Sept. 11-related information about patron reading habits," according to a University of Illinois survey. But since librarians are gagged under the act, it's not clear that these reports are accurate. In any event, the same study suggests that about 13.8 percent of the nation's libraries received similar requests in the year before Sept. 11, so it's impossible to say that the problem was exacerbated by the new law.

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From the Slate article: Section 215 is one of the surprising lightning rods of the Patriot Act.... In part this is because this section authorizes the government to march into a library and demand a list of everyone who's ever checked out a copy of My Secret Garden but also because those librarians are tough.

Of course, if the library manages its automated systems appropriately (see my August "Crawford Files" column), the library will tell the library:

We can tell you who currently has My Secret Garden, given a subpoena--but we're not required to keep records of previous circulations. And we don't.

"the same study suggests that about 13.8 percent of the nation's libraries received similar requests in the year before Sept. 11, so it's impossible to say that the problem was exacerbated by the new law."

Yes, but I bet if we looked at how many requests libraries complied with of those 13.8% pre-PATRIOT requests vs. the 10% post-patriot, we would see the problem exacerbated!

Your public library can report regularly that they have not been asked. As long as your public libraries haven't been asked you can report that. If you have been asked you cannot report it.

Make regular reports. When the reports stop it could indicate having been asked.

For example Boston Public Library President Bernie Margolis reported he had not been asked in the WBUR broadcast audio at
http://www.here-now.org/shows/2003/07/20030702_9.a sp

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