Big Brother Hits the Books

Big Brother Hits the Books

“Under the Patriot Act, the FBI doesn't have to demonstrate 'probable cause' of criminal activity to request records. In fact, the so-called 'search warrant' is issued by a secret court. Once granted, it entitles the FBI to procure any library records pertaining to book circulation, Internet use or patron registration. Librarians can even be compelled to cooperate with the FBI in monitoring Internet usage.

This sort of secrecy is not only chilling, it is ripe for potential abuse. A similar Cold War version of library monitoring was called the Library Awareness Program, through which FBI agents specifically targeted Soviet and Eastern European nationals.

The American Library Association effectively fought the LAP then, and is now standing up to the Patriot Act searches. The association unequivocally opposes 'the use of any governmental prerogatives which leads to the intimidation of the individual or the citizenry from the exercise of free expression.' (ALA Policy on Governmental Intimidation, 1981). The ALA sees the new FBI policy for what it is: blatant intimidation of readers….

Just as a person wearing rose-colored glasses sees everything rosy, so the FBI is predisposed to find suspicious facts. If the FBI wants to scour libraries looking for “suspicious” reading records, they're going to find them, but their perception is inherently skewed by their intent. I view reading as access to information; the FBI views it as an indictment. It suddenly fears domestic suicide bombings, so reading lists are examined and suddenly an innocent researcher is a suspect….

While the FBI may never visit your library (not that you'll know if it does as librarians are barred by law from disclosing the FBI's presence), this program of surveillance still has a chilling effect on cognitive liberty….

Freedom of thought and the freedom to read are intertwined. And while monitoring library records is not as direct as banning books, it is bound to cause self-censorship among readers, which may be the intended result anyway. The government may not be able to ban a book, so instead it will make you a suspect if you read that book. The FBI is merely circumventing the First Amendment by threatening readers rather than prohibiting what they read.” [, via LLRX Newstand via Library Stuff] [via The Shifted Librarian]

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