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Resistance to the US Patriot Act is growing
by Mike Healan in the Spyware Weekly Newsletter
May 1, 2003
copyrighted© 2001-2003 byMike Healan. ®
This article was the lead this week; there are others worth reading.
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Section 215 of the Patriot Act of 2001 allows authorities to "request" a person's library borrowing history and book purchasing habits. Depending on how the "request" is phrased, librarians and book sellers may be required to immediately turn over the records that are being sought with no way to protest the "request".

The person whose records the authorities may want to examine does not have to be suspected of committing a crime or even of planning to commit a crime. Ever hear of The Fourth Amendment? The authors of the Patriot Act apparently have not.

Section 215 also makes it illegal for booksellers or librarians to alert anyone to the fact that they have received an order. This is a very chilling provision, because it prevents someone from protesting the search and seizure of their records if the investigators are acting improperly or if the investigation is being done for harassment value.

Some librarians have gone to the point of creating and displaying huge signs that say "The FBI has NOT seized borrowing records at this library". Although it may be illegal to report a request for a borrower's records, it certainly is not illegal to say that they aren't (yet). If your library has such signs and one day they disappear, watch out.

I applaud that little piece of civil disobedience and I urge every bookseller and librarian in the country to do the same. The Patriot Act was important in giving authorities powers that they needed to discover terrorist networks. However, the language of the act is far too broad and would never have passed absent the hysteria overwhelming the country in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. Government being government, this act will be abused. Remember the DCMA?

Privacy International gives out Brandeis Awards to champions of privacy rights. I don't have a trophy or a plaque to give out, but I would like to give some recognition to one bookseller in particular. Bear Pond Books of Vermont has gone to the extraordinary effort of actually deleting the records of their customer's buying habits rather than allowing them to be searched by law enforcement. That is valuable demographic data given voluntarily by their customers, something that advertising spyware companies actually go to the trouble of stealing from internet users. If you are looking for a book online, give this little bookstore a look before you try Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Bear Pond Books is not alone in resisting the US Patriot Act in an active manner. Scores of communities across the nation are challenging the federal government openly. These small towns are passing local laws which make compliance with the Patriot Act difficult, if not outright illegal.

Arcata, California has passed legislation criminalizing voluntarily compliance with any federal investigation in which the Patriot Act is invoked. One Arcata council member was quoted as saying that "the Federal Government has gone stark raving mad."

Carrboro, North Carolina requires federal investigators who visit the town to report to city hall and state their business. Carrboro also directs local police to stand in the way of any unreasonable searches or seizures.

The government of America serves the people of American, not the other way around. Perhaps the federal government has forgotten that. Thankfully, this growing number of American communities are reminding the government of that fundamental fact of life in a way that cannot be ignored. We'll just have to wait and see what happens when the other shoe drops.

copyright© 2001-2003 byMike Healan. ®

Links: The Fourth Amendment Unintended consequences of the DCMA Brandeis Awards Bear Pond Books' Patriot Act policy Arcata, CA crimilizes Patriot Act compliance Carrboro, NC directs police to obstruct unreasonable searches

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