The FBI can track reading habits under the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
A recent report from a syndicated columnist has alerted us of one of the least known sections of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress, which allows the FBI to demand from bookstores and libraries the names of books bought or borrowed by anyone suspected of “involvement in internal terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities”. The basis for this search is in Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which says that the director of the FBI may seek a federal court order for “any tangible things including books or records, papers documents, and other items for an investigation to protect against “terrorists”.
Among the Act’s definitions of domestic terrorism is “acts (that) appear to be intended to…influence the policy of government by intimidation.” Such alleged “acts” could be based on what the suspect reads and follows in a book.
What causes great concern among librarians and bookstore owners is that once they turn turn the information over to the FBI, a gag order is imposed on the bookstore or library that prohibits them from disclosing “to any other person…that Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.”
This means that the librarian or bookstore owner cannot call a newspaper or televesion reporter to say that the FBI has conducted the search.
Gag orders are occasionally imposed by judges on prosecution and defense attorneys as well as the press, in certain cases where, for example, classified information may be part of the evidence or one of the witnesses might be endangered if his or her identity is revealed.
But whenever that happens, the press can disclose that the gag order has been imposed and can contest it in open court. However, under this particular provision of the U. S.A. Patriot Act, there has never before, to the knowledge of the author, been so rigid a gag order in First Amendment History.
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression has sent a letter to booksellers across the country informing them of this section of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, and telling them that when the court order for search is handed down, “the judge makes his decision “ex Parte’, meaning there is no opportunity for your or your lawyer to object in court”.
And since the bookstore owner or librarian can’t object to the press, can’t he or she at least consult a lawyer after the search has been made?” This is the advise of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression…and also the advice the librarians are getting for the American Library Association. “You remain entitled to legal counsel. Therefore, you may call your attorney and/or (the Booksellers Foundation or, if a librarian, the American Literary Association) and simply tell us that you need to contact legal counsel. Because of the gag order, however, you should not tell us that you have received a court order.”
This, mind you, is part of a law in the United States of America, not the People’s Republic of China. Because of the chilling effect of this section of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, its uncertain how many booksellers and librarians will even call a lawyer. And for those who do, it’s difficult to predict how successful a court challenge will be in the present, and long-term, atmosphere of fear of shadowy terrorists among us.
After all, during the Second World War, some 120,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of them citizens, were unjustly locked up in concentration camps for fear that being of Japanese ancestry, they would aid the enemy. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, in one of the lowest points in its history, as judged by most historians of the Court. And at the time, there was little public criticism.
This time, because of the gag order, there will be even less public criticism because we will not know how often these searches are made – and what specific books are under suspicion. You might have some of those books in your jown home.
The U.S.A. Patriot Act does say that this pursuit of booklists cannot be conducted “solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
What this actually means is that you are still protected by the First Amendment if you stand on a street corner and criticize John Ashcroft. But, if the FBI believes you are somehow connected to international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities – under the broad definition of the Act- they can find out what you’ve been reading. The gag order is indeed on the First Amendment.
The above article was written by syndicated columnist, Nat Hentoff.
In my humble opinion, there is more to self-defense for the martial artist than the physical approach. Our freedom to express our arts are dependent upon our ability to fully express our views on these forums and criticize (within the bounds of respect and good propriety.
One merely has to look back at the origin of any of our eastern arts and recall the banning of weapons and anything bearing the symbol of “martial” in its description.
In may cases the arts were buried and in symbolism of dances and statuary, to preserve them for the day that oppression ceased.
I think that the FBI has better things to do than to snoop libraries and bookstores for the reading habits of John Q Public, but what bothers me is that for every erosion or limitation or exception to our First Amendment Rights that takes place, a precedent is set that gives rise to shave a little more off here and there until freedom of expression is just an impression and not reality.
What do you think?
Am I alone in my concern?
"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"