FBI Begins Visiting Libraries

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 10:26:25 +0100

WASHINGTON –– The FBI is visiting libraries nationwide and checking the
reading records of people it suspects of having ties to terrorists or
plotting an attack, library officials say. 

The FBI effort, authorized by the antiterrorism law enacted after the
Sept. 11 attacks, is the first broad government check of library records
since the 1970s when prosecutors reined in the practice for fear of
abuses. 

The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment Monday, except to
note that such searches are now legal under the Patriot Act that
President Bush signed last October. 

Libraries across the nation were reluctant to discuss their dealings
with the FBI. The same law that makes the searches legal also makes it a
criminal offense for librarians to reveal the details or extent. 

"Patron information is sacrosanct here. It's nobody's business what you
read," said Kari Hanson, director of the Bridgeview Public Library in
suburban Chicago. 

Hanson said an FBI agent came seeking information about a person, but
her library had no record of the person. Federal prosecutors allege
Global Relief Foundation, an Islamic charity based in the Chicago
suburb, has ties to Osama bin Laden's terror network 

The University of Illinois conducted a survey of 1,020 public libraries
in January and February and found that 85 libraries had been asked by
federal or local law enforcement officers for information about patrons
related to Sept. 11, said Ed Lakner, assistant director of research at
the school's Library Research Center. 

The libraries that reported FBI contacts were nearly all in large urban
areas. 

In Florida, Broward County library director Sam Morrison said the FBI
had recently contacted his office. He declined to elaborate on the
request or how many branch libraries were involved. 

"We've heard from them and that's all I can tell you," Morrison said. He
said the FBI specifically instructed him not to reveal any information
about the request. 

The library system has been contacted before. A week after the Sept. 11
attacks, the FBI subpoenaed Morrison to provide information on the
possible use of computer terminals by some of the suspected hijackers in
the Hollywood, Fla., area. 

In October, investigators revisited the county's main library in Fort
Lauderdale and also checked a regional library in Coral Springs. 

At least 15 of the 19 hijackers had Florida connections. 

The process by which the FBI gains access to library records is quick
and mostly secret under the Patriot Act. 

First, the FBI must obtain a search warrant from a court that meets in
secret to hear the agency's case. The FBI must show it has reason to
suspect that a person is involved with a terrorist or a terrorist plot –
far less difficult than meeting the tougher legal standards of probable
cause, required for traditional search warrants or reasonable doubt,
required for convictions. 

With the warrant, FBI investigators can visit a library and gain
immediate access to the records. 

Judith Krug, the American Library Association's director for
intellectual freedom, said the FBI was treading on the rights it is
supposed to be upholding. 

"It's unfortunate because these records and this information can be had
with so little reason or explanation," Krug said. "It's super secret and
anyone who wants to talk about what the FBI did at their library faces
prosecution. That has nothing to do with patriotism." 

Krug tells worried librarians who call that they should keep only the
records they need and should discard records that would reveal which
patron checked out a book and for how long. 

She is frustrated by the hate mail she says she receives when she speaks
out against the Patriot Act. 

"People are scared and they think that by giving up their rights,
especially their right to privacy, they will be safe," Krug said. "But
it wasn't the right to privacy that let terrorists into our nation. It
had nothing to do with libraries or library records." 

Some libraries said they will still resist government efforts to obtain
records. 

Pat McCandless, assistant director for public services for Ohio State
University's libraries, said, "State law and professional ethics say we
do not convey patron information and that is still our stance. 

"To the best of our ability, we would try to support patron
confidentiality," she said. 

Source:  The Associated Press

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