Your hobby choices, avenues of study, interst in weapons, even the martial arts of foreign countries, coice of reading material, may be observed in detail without your knowledge and I am not referring to mail order sales list that you may be on.
Now that the USA Patriot Act has been around for a few months, there have been some new developments. I posted a report on this legislation a few months ago and it is in the archives of this forum.
You may recall that there was real concern about the broad powers given to police and the FBI concerning the right to delve into book purchasing habits of suspected terrorists with the ability to get a court order, not based upon legal probable cause, which warrant or order permitted the monitoring of book purchases, internet use and email. There was also a GAG order which prevented librarians or book-sellers from telling anyone at all about it.
Counsel the Librarian’s association challenged the Act’s ability to prevent relating the matter to legal counsel.
A few week’s ago was National Library Week and there have been some things to report here, in which we will review the subject matter and add to what was previously reported.
A few weeks ago, a high court in Colorado ruled that the owner of a bookstore doesn’t have to tell police who bought books that turned up in the home of a suspected drug dealer. The cops were hoping to use that information in their prosecution because they weren’t sure whose drugs they found. In other words, you bought those books, we know you bought them, we found them in your apartment where we found drugs, so the drugs and the books and the apartment must be yours. But the court ruled that police had no business forcing the store owner to give information about a customer’s perfectly legal book purchases, when those purchases had nothing to do with the illegal activity the police were investigating. Score one for privacy and the expectation that prosecutors must build a case on real evidence.
You may recall, last October 26, in the wake of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, “The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” which in a stroke of public relations genius was dubbed the USA Patriot Act, became law. The act was rushed into law to give police, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies, sweeping new powers to gather information about potential threats to our country. The law broadened the powers of police investigators to access telephone records, internet and e-mail use and computer records that would show which Web sites a person frequented an individual’s library usage, all without having to demonstrate “probable cause”. An agent only needs to “claim that he believes that the records he wants maybe related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities” according the American Library Association Web site.
The Patriot Act came in response to fact that we were attacked and that American law enforcement agencies needed more power to identify and catch terrorists before they could strike again. But the act, which was approved in spite of a lone dissenter, who was flailed in print by the columnists and critics around the country for voting her conscience gives police new powers that not only strip away many of our privacy rights, but impose gag orders so that you won’t know your records are under scrutiny or why. This year the National Library Week commenced with a theme of educating librarians across the country about a new protocol for what they should do when presented with a search warrant, under this brave new world of investigations.
For example, the act allows an FBI agent to obtain a search warrant giving access to your local Iibrary for “any tangible thing”. which includes books and records, papers, floppy disks, data tapes and computers with hard drives, according to the association’s Web site.
It also permits the FBI “to compel production of library circulation records, internet use records and registration information stored in any medium” all this without having to demonstrate probable cause.
The act also says that, once a library or librarian is served with a search warrant under the Patriot Act rules, they can’t talk about it under penalty of law.
The author of the article bringing us up to date asks, “Are you comfortable with this?’
Sure the law is aimed at terrorists and anyone who plans to attack our government and our way of life. But, a year or two after the national horror of Sept. 11, will over zealous federal investigators expand the definition of “a potential threat to our national security” to include things that congress hadn’t intended, asks the author. His reply to his own question is “My suspicion, given the tone set by John Ashcroft, is yes.”
He goes on to say “We already have broadened the definition of a terrorist to include any Palestinian with a weapon. Drug smugglers in South America are now said to be supporting terrorist activity, instead of being viewed as muderous, capitalistic organized crime clans that we knew they were before Sept 11. Anti government clans in the Philippines-made up of fighters who would have been called rebels or guerillas before Sept 11-are dubbed terrorists for their running battles with US supported government troops.
The author points out that terrorism is being linked to “close to home” activities to include people who speak out and disagreeing with government policies toward Afghanistan and the treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He says that in this country, members of Congress in the western timber states confidently declared members of the Earth Liberation Front to be terrorists because they have burned down or vandalized housing developments, a massive ski lodge and other construction projects that the ELF says threaten sensitive wilderness areas. Before Sept 11, members of the ELF were arsonists and vandals bent on hurting developers and corporations, Now they are terrorists lumped in with men who hijack airliners and slam then into the World Trade Center towers.
If you go to your local bookstore and buy a book so you can learn more about the Taliban, or anti-governmental Filipino rebels or Earth Liberation Front, (and how about martial arts books from foreign countries), do you now risk raising suspicions about what you’re up to ? If you spend time at your local library researching any of the above, and let us not forget looking at Web sites which are devoted to weapons, or doing research on fruit cakes that are selling secret ways to kill and change your identification, will that trigger suspicion of Anti-American ways?
I for one agree with the author that we should be concerned with the dispensing of or modification of our constitutional rights in the name of Patriotism.
I am old enough to remember the McCarthy era where congress, more fearful then of communism, than we are of post Sept 11 terrorism, permitted the good senator to rampage on witch hunts, which in the beginning was praised by the average American, but was carried on to a point that the disgrace greatly exceeded the good it might have done to protect against actual attack on our government.
In this country, if the legislative body grants overly broad powers, the courts will then have to protect us and that may be a long process, often related to the action of the pendulum.
The worst thing that can happen is that we do not speak out or contact our elected leaders; they value and take counsel from what their constituents advise.
It is not that there was no need for added powers when we are under attack, IMHO, it is the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and limitations to safeguard the average citizen are needed.
Remember when Rock and Roll was considered by many to be subversive?
What? You were not around in the early 1950’s and saw Alan Freed I(famous disk jockey) indicted in New York for inciting a riot because he failed to tell a group of kids at a concert to sit down and stop dancing in the aisles?