Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Patriotism As If Our Constitution Matters
You have probably thought about what you will do if the FBI comes to your library and requests your circulation records for the last few months. And you've no doubt thought about your web logs that keep track of every click a user makes. It all gets down to individual action or inaction. Is it OK to relinquish a principle if you might save one, or even hundreds, of innocent people? What if by releasing the reading habits of one of the 9/11 hijackers you could have prevented the horror? If you knew what was at stake, you would have. But it is probably never that clear a decision. This July 4th, did you think about what it is about America that makes you a patriot? If you're like me, it is that in this country you can say what you think, vote for whom you want, and read whatever you please. All without the government looking over your shoulder--at least until now. The Patriot Act The USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) cannot be quickly summarized, but the American Library Association (ALA) provides useful web sites on the law. Mary Minow's article "Library Records Post-Patriot Act" offers a valuable table summary. There are several crucial things the law specifically allows federal law enforcement to do to protect us from terrorists. As ALA Councilor and military veteran Karen Schneider says, "Under the Patriot Act, entire databases of library patron records can be taken by the FBI. There is no accountability, and the proceedings are all sealed...any court order issued under Section 215 of the Patriot Act prevents the recipient from saying anything to anyone other than the library's own legal counsel or the handful of staff required to retrieve the files requested by the court order." Signs of resistance Some libraries have found innovative ways to resist. As reported in "Librarians Try To Alter Patriot Act," the Santa Cruz Public Library, CA, posted signs stating that federal officials could seize information about book borrowing. Anyone wishing to complain is directed to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Director Anne Turner also found a subtle way around the gag order. "At each board meeting, I tell them we have not been served by any [search warrants]," Turner says. "In any months that I don't tell them that, they'll know." At the last Midwinter Meeting, ALA Council passed a resolution urging "librarians everywhere to defend and support user privacy and free and open access to knowledge and information." The resolution goes on to say "that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users." Not a direct call for civil disobedience, but draw your own conclusions. Digital diligence We face particular problems with our public services delivered via web servers. Every time patrons click a link on our web site, their Internet address is recorded along with what they looked at. More insidiously, our web catalog systems often record this same information as well as the search terms used. Digital libraries, in other words, can be wonderful supports for spying. Many libraries are working to either purge such files or "anonymize" them by replacing the numeric Internet address, which can be traced to a particular machine, with an arbitrary value. The best thing would be to alter your web logging so that individual IP addresses are not recorded at all. If you need to know where your users come from, you should "wash" your logs of numeric IP addresses that could be traced to an individual. One way to do this is with a script that changes an IP address to something like "stanford.edu.user1." For more information, see the web site Web Log Washing. Hope and despair In March, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom To Read Protection Act, which would reinstate the legal standards for libraries and bookstores that existed prior to the Patriot Act. The Senate's Library and Bookseller Protection Act has similar aims. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is preparing USA PATRIOT Act II. The fight is far from over. If you are visited by the FBI, I hope you know exactly what you will do and why you will do it. Meanwhile, there are things you can do to decrease the exposure of your users to searches and seizures. Keep only what you're willing to give up. Destroy everything else. __________________________________________________________________ Link List ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom Patriot Act Site www.ala.org/alaorg/ oif/usapatriotact.html ALA Resolution on the Patriot ACT tinyurl.com/98zb ALA Washington Office Patriot Act site www.ala.org/espy Librarians Try To Alter Patriot Act www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/ article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/03/10/ LIBRARIES.TMP Minow, Mary: Library Records Post Patriot Act www.llrx.com/features/ libraryrecords.htm USA PATRIOT Act www.eff.org/Privacy/Surveillance/ Terrorism_militias/20011025 _hr3162_usa_patriot_bill.html Web Log Washing sunsite.berkeley.edu/Web4Lib/ RefCenter/logwashing.html