NPR on one library system's run in w/PATRIOT


From today's Morning Edition, a story about one northwestern Washington library system's grappling with PATRIOT:

Congress is considering whether to renew parts of the USA Patriot Act that are due to expire soon, including a provision that allows library records to be turned over to law enforcement. As part of our continuing coverage of the Patriot Act, Larry Abramson has this report on a library system in northwestern Washington state that had its ethics tested when the FBI came to call.

Complete story (Real Audio required). A related story discusses the use of library records in the investigation of the Unabomber case.


Hope this article will promote LISNews readers to go over and VOTE in our latest poll concerning the Patriot Act. Add your comment too.

I say there were no facts of any crime here.

And sure, a law enforcement agent or a prosecutor or a grand jury can issue subpoenas right and left, with or without good reason. The "check and balance" on this power is the ability of any individual to ask a judge to pass on their request and assure that the request is reasonable and not a fishing expedition. That may mean, as it did here, asking the FBI to demonstrate to a judge that their request is reasonable and backed by something more than wanting to know who scribbled a quote into a book, since, after all, it is our Constitutional right to read and inquire without government interference.

So, yes, the librarian has the right to use this method to protect information they've agreed to keep confidential, and which the state law regards as confidential (some states even make it an obligation under the law.) Any educated professional, or heck, even the uneducated non-professional can do so. It's the glory of our Constitutional republic - anyone can challenge the government to prove its bona fides. That doesn't mean the courts will agree with them - they may uphold the subpoena - but at least the Constitutional guarantees of due process and fundamental fairness have been satisfied.

So we both agree that conspiracy to commit a crime is sufficient for a subpoena?

Now we are trying the case. Advisable for a non-defendant librarian working with limited knowledge? Be my guest.

Conspiracy to commit a crime is grounds for subpoena under Federal Law, including the PA.

Okay, let's look at the facts here. A biography of Osama Bin Laden is in circulation at a rural Washington state library. Someone who borrows the book writes a Google-able years-old quote of Bin Ladin's into the margins of a page.

A subsequent borrower sees the quote, and not knowing its provenance, turns the book over to the FBI.

Scribbling in marginalia is evidence of precisely what? Thoughtful review? Sourcing ideas? Academic notetaking? Oh,maybe petty vandalism of public library property, but standing alone, not much more. (Not a federal crime, by the way.)

Unless, of course, mere consideration of "wrongful" ideas is proof of conspiracy. But the Supreme Court overturned sedition laws in the 50's and 60's in favor of upholding the First Amendment right and freedom to consider any idea.

Even granting your argument, the Constitutional guarantee of due process demands that anyone receiving a subpoena from the government have the right and a fair opportunity to challenge the grounds for the subpoena - in essence, putting the government's assertions to the test. The PATRIOT Act - more specifically, Section 215 - eliminates that right. It's the basis for the federal court's decision that found National Security Letters - another type of federal subpoena power - unconstitutional. Basically, the court found that because NSLs were issued in secret and did not provide any means to challenge the NSL in court, due process rights were violated sufficiently to render the statute authorizing NSLs unconstitutional. Another court case makes the same arguments about Section 215. A decision is pending in that case.

Given that First Amendment rights were implicated here, as well as the ethical obligations assumed by the library and its librarians to preserve user privacy, it was actually prudent for the library to ask a judge to make the final decision on the search. Making a motion to quash under the rules provided by the federal code is hardly an act of obstruction.

And moreover, if the FBI firmly believed it had a basis for pursuing this investigation, it could have gone to court and provided the judge with its reasons for wanting the information.

It's called checks and balances.

Nor would the library been able to exercise the most basic of due process rights to challenge the subpoena, a subpoena issued with no basis to believe that any criminal act had occurred

Conspiracy to commit a crime is grounds for subpoena under Federal Law, including the PA. Any librarian demanding proof of a criminal act would soon find themselves in front of a Federal judge.

"And chill, man"

I'm a Republican. I support the war and I support Bush. You say he lied, I say he didn't. You want me to be civil then be civil back.

You're incorrect about the PATRIOT Act. The Craig/Durbin bill, the SAFE Act, would restore the requirement that a court order issued under Section 215 only be issued when the FBI can show probable cause that the targeted person is an "agent of a foreign power."

As Section 215 is written now, ANYONE and ANY INSTITUTION can be required to turn over information on any person or persons as long as the FBI agent tells the FISA court that the "the records concerned are sought for an authorized investigation" related to terrorism or espionage.

And chill, man. I didn't accuse you of lying, but the administration. They've lied about WMD and other topics. They've withheld information. They are not forthcoming.

And they did deal with the first bombing of the Towers. They got convictions. People went to jail - remember the Blind Iman?

Anon said that this had nothing to do with the Patriot Act. You then said that nobody had said it did and then proceeded to go on a spiel about the horrors of the Bush administration. Who's the one thats angry?

I didn't listen to it, I have a dial-up at home and figured it wasn't worth the wait. I'm guessing its the same> that has come up before about a law enforcement officer doing exactly as you described "a fishing expedition", looking for info on who checked out a book not what a certain someone checked out.

Well guess what? That's not allowed under the Patriot Act. They have to be looking for info on a specfic someone. So it couldn't have been used in this case anyway, assuming its the one I refer to.

You know, from now on, whenever someone feels free to just accuse an entire administration (and by default those that voted for them this past Nov.) of being liars I'm just going to say that we wouldn't be dealing with this mess if Clinton, his administration, and everyone who voted for him, weren't such cowards and had dealt with the terrorism issue after the first bombing of the Towers.

Addendum: Nor is the library responsible for LisNews' headline, for that matter.

Why the anger? Why the accusation of a lie? Can't deal with the substance of the message?

The library isn't responsible for NPR's headline. My comments are based on the comments made by Joan Airoldi. At no time does she represent that the inquiry took place under the PATRIOT Act. She does point out what would be different if the inquiry had taken place under Section 215.

Did you listen and/or read what the librarian herself had to say?

"No, no one said that it did involve the PATRIOT Act."

Excuse me, but the heading for the post is: NPR on one library system's run in w/PATRIOT

Don't be accusing "this adminstration" of lying when the first words out of your keyboard are a ball faced lie.

No, no one said that it did involve the PATRIOT Act. But it is an example of the classic "fishing expedition," a demand from government officials to know the names of everyone who checked out the book, based on the specious theory that anyone interested in Osama Bin Laden's biography, anyone with half-a-wit who scribbles a bit of relevant marginalia into a library book, must have some malign, terroristic intent and must, therefore come under suspicion until proven innocent.

The point to understand is that, had this inquiry been conducted under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, we, as citizens, wouldn't know about this particular bit of governmental overreaching. Nor would the library been able to exercise the most basic of due process rights to challenge the subpoena, a subpoena issued with no basis to believe that any criminal act had occurred (other than thinking about ideas not necessarily approved and vetted by the current administration.)

The PATRIOT Act dissolves all the institutional protections for our fundamental rights. Instead, it requires that we rely upon the goodwill of those using the PATRIOT Act not to abuse its powers. Frankly, given this administration's history of lies and demonstrated willingness to use any means necessary to achieve their ends, I prefer the law to the discretion of men. Limiting the power of the government that serves us, and demanding accountability from it, is no sin.

This particular incident didn't involve the Patriot Act. Lets get the facts straight.

And you, hypothetically speaking as a library director, would challenge any subpoena that you would characterize as a fishing expedition? For example, the browser cache of a public workstation?