Monday, June 20, 2005

Read Any Bad Books Lately?

When Congressman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) showed his pique on June 10th and abruptly ended a hearing on the Patriot Act before the House Judiciary Committee, he sarcastically challenged a panel of human rights experts to come up with any evidence that American libraries have been asked to divulge records on the reading habits of their patrons ... implying that such a thing, although expressly allowed by the USA Patriot Act, has never happened.

It was trick rhetoric. Rep. Sensenbrenner certainly knows -- since he wrote the USA Patriot Act himself -- that the law PROHIBITS, under criminal penalty, a library from revealing that it's been asked by law enforcement to rat out its readers.

Nevertheless, this morning the American Library Association is out with results of a wide survey of American librarians (1,500 public libraries and 4,000 academic libraries), which reveals that at least 200 formal and informal inquiries (some via subpoenas) have been made to libraries by law enforcement agencies for information on reading material "and other internal matters" since October 2001. One such request was actually a demand to obtain a list of those checking out a book on Osama bin Laden. Under this regime, looking for information could be considered tantamount to treason.

The ALA's survey did not attempt to get too specific on how or whether the USA Patriot Act has been used to search libraries. Why? Because of the aforementioned provision in Mr. Sensenbrenner's law: "The association said it decided it was constrained from asking direct questions on the law because of secrecy provisions that could make it a crime for a librarian to respond." Neat trick, that! Prevent any congressional oversight by making the direct answering of a question a felony.

Only in El Presidente's America!

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