Friday, October 08, 2004

Librarian fights so-called Patriot Act

From Proof Through the Night: Have you hugged your librarian today? This story links to a local media report on how a Whatcom county librarian is defying FBI orders to turn over a list of people who have checked out a book titled, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America. It's not a pro-Bin Laden book. The FBI has confiscated it from the library. As the original media link points out, it is now overdue.

No, I didn't post this just to kiss Shawn's ass. We have had many discussions, however, about the so-called Patriot Act and how librarians are affected by it. The law was a terrible knee jerk reaction bill passed by Congress to overturn 30 years of reform that was required after the FBI abused it's power and spied on it's citizens with impunity, or worse. After 30 years of sanctions, the FBI pleaded that they had turned a new leaf and would not abuse the laws again. Of course this hasn't stopped greedy prosecutors from finding creative ways to implement some of the laws wording in order to prosecute people. Some may find this sort of intrusion palatable in the name of safety. I whole heartedly disagree. The only thing the law does is ruffle my libertarian feathers the wrong way.

Kudos to this librarian and to others around the country who fight against needless government intrusion into our lives. Hey, isn't the Republican party supposed to be fighting against this sort of thing? Just another case in point of them not being very different from the Democratic party in that both are more interested in maintaining power than in philisophical differences.


Anonymous said...

One of the comments on the Have You Hugged... site does make a very valid and probably easy to institute suggestion: don't keep records of what people have previously checked out in the at all. If there is no record for "The Man" to get access to then there is no way for them snoop into people's business. If there is even the remote possibility that what a person is reading may be monitored it will have some effect on what a person chooses to check out when they go to the library. Most folks rightly are wary of government intrusion in thier lives, since when the government does come knocking it's usually not to give you a hug and tell you you're a good citizen.

B.D. said...

That's a good point. If I were writing library check in/out programs, I'd probably delete that information of at least encrypt it to make it difficult to retrieve after the book is returned.

The problem I see with it is this: Suppose someone checks out book "X" and returns it on time. No fee or penalty applies, hence no reason to save the record of whom checked it out, right? Well, what if book "X" is checked out 3 months later and the person who does so reports that it's been vandalized? How do you find the vandal?

Now, of course, you cannot prove that customer Z vandalized that book (though she didn't report the vandalization, but perhaps she didn't open it and just quickly returned it to avoid the penalty), but let's say a number of books that focus on the same topic, genre, or author as book X all start to come back vandalized or that a higher than normal ratio of books start coming back that way. How are you to ever track down this serial vandal? Do you just not bother, consider that is the cost of being a public library, and take the financial hit? If you have records, you might determine who the vandal is, prosecute her and perhaps even receive financial restitution.

It's a delicate subject.