Recent polls show that around 75 percent of Americans are not afraid that the war on terrorism will infringe on their civil liberties. Some 48 percent think that the official response, the USA Patriot, goes far enough. Finding poll figures of how many Americans have actually read and understand all 300-plus pages of the act, introduced 13 days after the 9-11 disaster, is a bit more difficult.
Anecdotal stories and records from Congress suggest that the act received scant analysis in the heady weeks after the disaster, members falling all over themselves to appear proactive and passing the act with scarcely a shred of discussion. Indeed, there has been a surprising dearth of debate or even full and accurate information of the specifics of the act in the mainstream media--leaving most Americans ignorant of the facts and unable to express an informed opinion of the reality of USA Patriot.
The cavalry coming to the rescue is not the media, but the nation's librarians, who are hopping mad about the act--as well as the "Son of Patriot," coyly slipped into the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (conveniently and cynically while the nation was distracted by the rabbit (Saddam) being pulled out of a hat--on a Saturday, no less).
Last Tuesday evening, a panel of those courageous women (and men, don't forget) convened in a conference room in the D.H. Hill library at N.C. State University to present North Carolina librarians' response to the act. Forget about the stereotypes, out of their element there ain't no shushing this bunch--these folks are not screwing around when it comes to their mission, part of which is protecting their clients' privacy. They are ready to go to jail.
What troubles Anne Klinefelter, associate director of the UNC Law Library, are sections 215 and 805, which dictate, respectively, that warrants are expanded to cover searches of "any entity" to obtain "any tangible thing," and that if anyone gives "expert advice or assistance" to a foreign terrorist organization, that is also a crime. It is also a crime to tell anyone that they are the target of a search or that there has even been a search, period (making it difficult to discover how often libraries have been compromised).
The problem is, that's what librarians do--give advice on how to find material, terrorist material: you know, almanacs and such.
This is not the first time librarians have been in the hotseat of national security. World War I brought federal agents into the nations libraries--and a tepid response from the profession. The Commie scare of the fifties engendered a stiffer reaction, and now they are putting up a real wall.
"Libraries are an essential aspect of democracy," said Ross Holt, past president of the N.C. Library Association and head of reference at the Randolph County Public Library. Part of the librarians' mission is to make sure borrowers' records are secure, he reminded the audience.
It seems that libraries are putting up a good fight. It has been the direction of libraries for a number of years to close breaches in security, canceling borrowers' records upon return of a book and going to barcodes instead of names. "If you don't want anyone to know what you read, bring your books back," Tom Moore, director of Wake County Public Libraries, told the crowd to a smattering of laughter and applause.
Christian Standberg, chair of the RTP Chapter of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, struck the most sobering note of the evening, raising the specter of what he termed the "Security Industrial Complex," the nascent, emerging system of interconnected private databases that make it possible for the curious to know anything about you via data mining and the like--private organizations being outside the purview of government. "It's scary," Standberg said, "really scary."