Librarian Jessamyn West Profiled by Wired


Here's a Wired piece profiling "radical librarian," and occasional LISNews contributor Jessamyn West.

"In a democracy, citizens can access information they view as important," West said, "and traditionally we as librarians have kept it private. We are in favor of free speech and against censorship, and believe in the right to research material without the government looking over your shoulder."


But they should have included a picture of the lovely Jessamyn.

The Wired article gives this factoid without looking into it, The ALA challenged Ashcroft to reveal the number of times law enforcement had requested library records. In response, the Department of Justice released a declassified memo that claimed the number was zero, which was contradicted by a University of Illinois Library Research Center study that found more than a dozen libraries had received visits and requests for information from law enforcement.

The Justice Department provided a number of how many times section 215 was used against libraries. The answer from DOJ was zero. The fact that the FBI and police have questioned someone in a library does not mean that Section 215 was used. In Jessamyn's original rant on her website she said "This number given in the DoJ memo directly contradicts an earlier study done by Leigh Esterbrook at the University of Illinois' Library Research Center which revealed many libraries that had received visits and requests for records from LOCAL law enforcement and the FBI."

Just because your local town cop shows up at the library is no proof that Section 215 of the Patriot Act was used. Notice how in the Wired article the word LOCAL was dropped. Why? Because it sounded silly to be saying LOCAL police were using the Patriot Act.

From the Wired article She worries that a researcher could check out a book on Islam and suddenly end up on the no-fly list

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is codified at 50 U.S.C. 1861. 1861 is titled "Access to certain business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations". If the situation is not dealing with INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM or FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE the government should not be using this section. If they are they are breaking the law. If the law is being broken it is not the fault of the law but the government agents that are violating the law. Section 215 (50 U.S.C. 1861) also does not apply to the Islam book example that Jesamyn or Wired puts forth because the law (Section 215) specifically prohibits it. The actual text of the law, 50 USCS § 1861(a) (1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, PROVIDED that such investigation of a United States person is NOT conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the FIRST AMENDMENT to the Constitution.

A book on Islam is not INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM or FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE. Islamic terrorists already know about Islam so they normally wouldn't be chacking out books about it. If the FBI goes after someone checking out a book on Islam they are VIOLATING the Patriot act not being supported by the Partiot Act. The actual text of the law is not onerous in my opinion.

From the Wired article:
What does the irascible West say to people who tease her by asking if she has taken classes on holding her finger up to her lips and saying shush?

"I'm pretty good with this finger already," she replied.

I could imagine what Jessamyn might use her middle finger for. If she held up her middle finger during the interview the writer could have passed on that info. Typically the shushing action is done with the index finger. It would have been nice if the article clarified what great use Jessamyn had for her index finger. Some special librarian book trick perhaps?

The interview was over the phone and that particular part of it was from a former interview that I did replying to people that make fun of librarians and librarianship. I think its meaning is clear.

From my very informal survey, I have been hearing that libraries have been getting queries of the "who has checked out XYZ book about ________ ?" variety even though, as you say, those queries are overly broad, don't target a specific person and are, in my opinion covering actions that are covered by the first amendment, or are they? Is the freedom to read in the Constitution? Is the right to privacy? The thing that the USA PATRIOT Act is most likely to overrule is state library privacy records, not covered by the caveat about the Constituion that you cite.

However, investigations into international terrorism can, and do, cover US citizens. FISA courts can, and will, allow for broader searches and seizure of records that the plain-old subpoena did pre-USAPA. John Ashcroft is downplaying the potential for abuse at the same time as the DoJ puts up web sites like>

My "rant" was a published article in Clamor Magazine which may not be your cup of tea but is an okay source for radical and leftist news. The Wired article wasn't perfect and in some ways edited a bit too closely but overall I thought it covered the issue well. It's pretty tough to do interviews and also get final approval for what is printed. I think in this case the benefits of getting the message out overshadowed the small inaccuracies that the article contained. Feel free to write to Adam at Wired if you feel otherwise. I personally think he did a very good job.

From previous comment:
John Ashcroft is downplaying the potential for abuse at the same time as the DoJ puts up web sites like

There is a potential of abuse with any law. If the government does not abuse the law we don't have a problem. The problem is not with the Patriot Act it is with whether you trust the governent or not. Since this is a government by the people for the people we have to remain ever vigilant. The Patriot Act is not the problem. As far as abuse I have not seen any documented cases of abuse of the Patriot Act. If someone wants to refute this please do so with specifics.

FISA courts can, and will, allow for broader searches and seizure of records that the plain-old subpoena did pre-USAPA.

Do you have a source for this? Something to back it up? Thats why I used the term "rant" before. You say lots of things and provide no cites. Point to law, point to something. You are a librarian give me a source.

It has been funny to watch the moderation on my comments. They will climb up to 4 or 5 and then drop down to 2.

To those of you that are moderating downward why the silence? Where is your detailed argument of how I am wrong? I understand that it is much easier to sit and do nothing but click the moderation button. But since I am so clearly wrong I would like to hear the counter argument that proves that my comments are "overrated" as you suggest with your moderation.

A very famous government official once said, "Trust, but>"

Of course, it's hard to verify when the details are, by that same law, kept secret. For now, "Trust, but ... just trust us, okay!" seems to be the message.

As far as abuse I have not seen any documented cases of abuse of the Patriot Act.

That would be because those compelled by law to provide material assistance are gagged from disclosing any information about it, even if they have a suspicion it is being abused. Whistle-blowing rights within enforcement agencies are being curtailed as well. Who does that leave to report the abuse? The person who was the>of a covert search?

Oh, right! That one is not actually an abuse. It was an accident. Of course. Besides, that's only just one little accident. I haven't seen any documented cases of any other accidents.

Woops, that's section 213, and we were talking about 215 earlier. That's a completely different broadly expanded police power contained in the act.

All these different places to try to shine a little light.

Umm, because you can't post after you moderate.

If the people that moderated had stunning rebukes they could have used them instead of moderating. The moderations were Kindergarten moderations, "I don't like what you are saying so I am marking you down."

If I am so wrong there must be someone out there that has not moderated that could step up to the plate and tell me how I am wrong.

Elizabeth B Bazan "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" Novinka Books, New York: 2002.

The cites for the "rant" are at the end of the article, they're just not inline footnotes in keeping with the formatting requirements of the magazine. FISA isn't new with the USA PATRIOT Act, it's just newly applied to different situations than it could previously be used in.