Your research paper is due in four hours, and you are still web
surfing at the library for sources. Do you know who is watching
you?

Mary Minow, a former librarian who now works as a lawyer, spoke
to School of Information faculty and students yesterday about how
the U.S.A. Patriot Act’s passage in 2001 has impacted
confidentiality.

Privacy “has been a strong value in libraries time immemorial,”
she said to an audience at West Hall.

“The notion of keeping private what you read — these are the
core values of librarians.”

Minow, a University alum, is currently traveling around the
country to educate librarians about their obligations to law
enforcement, as well as their protected freedoms under this
relatively recent act.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act was designed “to deter and punish
terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to
enhance law enforcement investigatory tools ” and amends 15
existing federal laws.

Minow referred to the act as “a wish list of the Department of
Justice.” Of particular concern for librarians is Section 215, she
added, titled “Access to Records and Other Items Under the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

Minow said Section 215 adds a great deal of secrecy to the
investigative process and makes court orders more easily
obtainable.

She differentiated between giving access to “records” –
circulation data, registrations and Internet sign-ups – which are
protected by law and require a court order to gain access, and
“observations” – subjective notes on behavior, physical
descriptions and surveillance tapes – which are not protected under
the current law.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently revealed that
Section 215 has never been used against libraries to date. Still,
Minow compared the policy to a blank check that has yet to be
cashed.

But Undergraduate Library employee Nick Archer said he agrees
with the provisions of the Patriot Act.

“I would have more of a concern if they couldn’t (have access to
records),” Archer said. He added that, to his knowledge, the
library had not received any requests for personal information.

While Minow acknowledged the importance of cooperating with law
enforcement to capture criminals, she noted the importance of
respecting innocent library patrons and investigating in an
organized fashion.

“We want to preserve the process,” she said.

School of Information Prof. Victor Rosenberg said a large new
aspect of the issue is the gag order it places on librarians.

Though the penalty is ambiguous, if librarians are contacted by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they are banned from speaking
about the incident.

The gag order “is antithetical to our freedoms,” he said.

The first constitutional challenge against Section 215 is
presently taking place in Ann Arbor.

The Muslim Community Association filed suit on July 30th,
protesting that the provisions in Section 215 allow the FBI to
obtain records of its members without due process.

School of Information Prof. Gavin Clarkson said there is
probably not a relevant threat to the university library
system.

He added that there are other privacy issues than Section 215
that may cause more anxiety, such as obtaining a search
warrant.

Clarkson added that the debate between librarians and law
enforcement “is clearly a balancing test. Part of the challenge is
we’re still trying to find out what that balance is.”

School of Information student Mellanye Lackey said she felt more
knowledgeable after Minow’s presentation.

As an employee at the Undergraduate Library, she was unaware of
the University’s procedure regarding law enforcement until
recently.

“It’s important to protect patron privacy above all,” she
said.

The Patriot Act may be seeing many revisions in the near
future.

Members of congress are in the process of drafting various
measures that would strengthen existing policies or limit its
scope.

 

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