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You might think something not happening somewhere isn't news, but you'd be wrong. Princeton University Library officials said this week that they have received no requests for student or faculty library records under the USA PATRIOT Act in the five years since Congress passed the controversial law. But Library policy protects the identity of its patrons by deleting records of loans as soon as those books are returned.
There were also no Sasquatch sightings reported in the library.
The CBC Reports Dozens of Canadian university and college libraries are changing how they arrange for their students and faculty to do online research, in part because of a U.S. law intended to detect possible terrorist activity.
"It's an issue of privacy; [that's] what it comes down to," said Karen Lippold, a librarian at Memorial University in St. John's.
Conceivably, the searches of a student or faculty member doing work on a sensitive issue could be flagged and then stored in the U.S.
Citing changes in the 2001 law made earlier this year, the ACLU has decided to drop its lawsuit related to section 215 of the Patriot Act. This section, the ACLU claims, presents serious constitutional problems in light of its supposed restrictions on free speech. The ACLU will continue to litigate other sections of the Patriot Act.
NPR ran a poignant interview with former US Attorney General John Ashcroft a few days ago. Revelations include his hospital-bed rejection of a White House request to push through NSA's warrantless surveillance program, and reflections on his "biggest failure," regarding the USA PATRIOT Act, to "explain it well to the American people." Although he admits he is "almost as mean as I ever was," he draws several historical parallels to recent security measures and comes across as somewhat less... hysterical... than he did during his tenure in the Bush administration.
Anonymous Patron writes "From U.S. Attorney's Office, New Haven to the Hartford Courant comes a response to "several press reports and editorials" in a
recent media blitz by Connecticut's Library Connection consortium."
Kelly writes "Here, from News Hound , (a site that monitors Fox News..."We watch FOX so you don't have to")...Dick Morris, Fox newsman and former President Clinton advisor/now detractor reports 'Democrats Have To Understand That Snooping Through Library Records Is Popular.'
Anonymous Patron writes "More details surfaced about the Library Connection-ACLU National Security Letter lawsuit in a Hartford Courant article. Library Connection executive director George Christian regrets only that the government abandoned the case. "We didn't get the courts to make a definitive ruling on this..." The consortium director expressed strong support for the confidentiality of library records."
We've covered the idea of inverse surveillance previously. By "watching the watchers," a la George Holliday, it keeps their behavior in check. The ferocity with which some law enforcement personnel -- right up to the top -- have opposed such oversight seems to far outweigh any realistic concerns over security.
Combine these trends and you get last week's story from Philadelphia, where a man was cuffed and jailed allegedly after doing nothing more than taking a picture of another bust with his cell phone.
So what does this have to do with libraries? Well, there's a lot of chatter about how Library 2.0 could take off more if we would just lighten up about that
pesky privacy tenet of our profession. But before we run out and start storing and sharing patron data without proper safeguards and policies, we should be prepared for others abusing the power that this gives them.
Imagine being overseas and your identity being available for the taking - your nationality, your name, your passport number. Everything. That's the fear of privacy and security specialists now that the State Department plans to issue "e-Passports" to American travelers beginning in late August.
The Department of State has a FAQ page up as well.
Federal authorities have dropped their demand for library patrons' records after a judge lifted an earlier gag order on the Library Connection of CT. "First the government abandoned the gag order that would have silenced four librarians for the rest of their lives, and now they've abandoned their demand for library records entirely," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU. "While the government's real motives in this case have been questionable from the beginning, their decision to back down is a victory not just for librarians but for all Americans who value their privacy."