When someone reads over your shoulder it’s distracting and, to some, downright annoying. The FBI has cut a wider swath to do just that through Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, October 2001. To some, that’s a violation of civil liberties.
It is now easier for federal law enforcement agencies to obtain information about business records, including those of bookstores and libraries, and to monitor public meetings without probable cause. Records of who has borrowed certain books or used public access computers (and for what purpose) are considered business records, though most libraries do purge information about what someone has borrowed once it is returned.
Intellectual Freedom Under Siege
Take, for instance, the story of Andrew O’Connor of Santa Fe, New Mexico. On February 13 at 9:30pm, he was using a public Internet terminal in the St. John’s College Meem Library. According to O’Connor, an unemployed public defender, he was checking his email account for job leads from friends when along came four Santa Fe cops who “handcuffed me and Mirandized me.”
“I still don’t know what I did,” said O’Connor in a phone interview with Vigilance. “There were no charges. The police didn’t really question me. They said, ‘We’re not arresting you, we’re detaining you.’ They took me to the police station where I sat around for two and a half hours in handcuffs before the Secret Service arrived from Albuquerque.
“I asked for a lawyer, but they wouldn’t give me one. They searched my backpack. They violated my Sixth Amendment right to counsel, my Fourth Amendment right protecting me from illegal search and seizure, my Fifth Amendment right protecting me from unlawful detainment, and, of course, my First Amendment rights.”
Throughout the interview O’Connor asked repeatedly for assurance that he was really talking to a reporter. “I have to be careful about who I talk to because sometimes I get calls from the Secret Service and I don’t want to talk to law enforcement. Plus my phone’s been tapped.”
According to the American Library Association (ALA), “Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas. It is a core value of the library profession and a cornerstone of democracy.”
Bess: “Big Sister” of
So what happened in Albuquerque? Can it happen here? What sorts of record keeping, software filters, and other monitoring activities do Peninsula libraries, bookstores and publishers engage in?
If you walk into the Port Angeles branch of the North Olympic Library System (NOLS), there is a kiosk of Internet terminals directly in front of you. If one is available you might think your luck is good. But what is not posted anywhere is that this particular terminal (and the other one at the same kiosk, too) has filtering software.
What that means is, should you be doing research on Pee Wee Herman, Monica Lewinsky, or OJ Simpson, you are only allowed to view some web sites, but not all. For instance, if you’d like to see Pee Wee’s mug shot on mugshots.org, you can’t. It’s blocked. The category it falls under is “Tasteless/Gross, Sex.” Say you just accept it and never look up mugshots on an unfiltered PC. You’ll miss Pee Wee with a goatee and you’ll never find out that Bill Gates (yes, that Bill) went to the Albuquerque cop shop on December 13, 1977, because he ran a stop light and wasn’t carrying his license with him when he was pulled over.
Maybe serial killers are of interest to you. A quick search on Albert De Salvo (the Boston Strangler) will not reveal the GeoCities site of Raymond Chitolie, a British citizen. The reason given is that Murder/Suicide is not a suitable subject for young eyes, though Chitolie’s site only lists the most spare details of the Boston Strangler’s crimes. Most of Chitolie’s site is résumé-like. Under his interests, Chitolie notes, “I have spent a great deal of time creating and maintaining two sets of web pages: ‘The Wisdom of Homer J. Simpson’ and the (still in development) ‘Serial Killer Homepage.’ Both have received positive ratings from many hundreds of Internet [surfers].”
That may be so, but not if the browser they use employs Bess software made by N2H2, the system NOLS put in place around two years ago. The software was installed “in response to community request,” said Hal Enerson, Administrative Services Manager of NOLS. “We had adults looking at adult material in the children’s area.”
The terminal used to search out Pee Wee was not located in the children’s area, but it was in a high traffic area. “Most of our terminals are not filtered,” said Enerson. “We would not filter all of the terminals.” Certainly he meant not all in the Port Angeles branch specifically because all terminals in the Sequim and Forks branches are filtered. One of four terminals at the Clallam Bay branch is unfiltered. In any case, you may apply for temporary bypass filtering if you have an authorized override name and password.
Bess software offers other options: you can use your browser’s back button or enter a different web address to continue. If you run across an offensive (to you) site, you may submit a site review request electronically right off the Bess block screen. What Bess doesn’t tell you is that if you feel the site you wish to view is not offensive, you must physically ask personnel to reconsider its block. The NOLS reference librarian agrees that the filter system is not perfect. For a while, the Port Townsend Dive Shop site was blocked, she says.
Nowhere near this terminal is a sign that tells you there are eight non-filtered cubicle-ized terminals known as “The Pit” behind you to your left, or that kids under 18 can use those non-filtered terminals if parents give them written permission. It doesn’t say so in the Internet policy found on the NOLS web site either. You just have to know to ask the right questions.
However, if you do use a “Pit” terminal, there is no sign up sheet and the history of web sites viewed (known as a “cache”) is cleared when a user logs off. Automated circulation records are purged “as soon as material is checked in,” said Enerson.
Loompanics and the Feds
Ironically, the web site of controversial Port Townsend publishing company Loompanics Unlimited doesn’t seem to be a problem for Bess, even though the site itself states, “This site is for the use of adults only. We do not recommend viewing by anyone less than 18 years of age. We do not accept orders from minors.”
Ah...Loompanics Unlimited. The publisher of such titles as Wind Energy Basics, Sex Disasters and How to Survive Them, and The Basement Bugger’s Bible. As you might imagine, Loompanics well understands the First Amendment where publishing is concerned and how it applies to the Fourth Amendment where its customers are concerned.
Gia Cosindas, Loompanics editor, is aware that bugging people without their knowledge is illegal. “We’re not telling people to do that. It’s just information on what it is.”
What’s the difference between that and publishing how-to books on fake identification (once legal, but currently not)? “The government decides what’s bad,” says Cosindas.
“A lot of our books are purchased by screenwriters, authors…people who wouldn’t have a source for that kind of information.
“The FBI has contacted us a few different times. If they have a subpoena, we will follow it. If they want Bob Brown and they have Bob Brown’s address and specific information about Bob Brown, yes, we will give them whatever the subpoena states that they want. If they want all of the information they can possibly get about every Bob Brown that we have and what every Bob Brown that we have has wanted then no, because we want them to be more specific.
“That has happened and we said, ‘Do you have an address?’ because some names are common enough that we might have four or five of them.”
As for the Patriot Act, Cosindas says, “People call up and want to know if the government has contacted us. Of course, according to the rules, we couldn’t tell them if they have. I don’t think it says anything about saying anything if they haven’t [contacted us], and they haven’t.
“Interestingly enough, I think more people have become interested in our books since the Patriot Act. I think that is because the rules are so blatantly flaunting the rights our forefathers gave us. People are tired of it, want to do something, and feel like our books will in some way help them fight what is going on.
“We shred all of our garbage and have been doing that for a long time. We [do] have to keep records, but we get rid of old paper records. There’s a certain amount of years you have to hold on to. If anyone is uncomfortable about having their books recorded, we don’t have to put down what books they’ve purchased. They can have as much privacy as they want. We have people who buy books that I’m quite certain aren’t really Santa Claus or Paul Revere or whatever assumed name they put on money orders.”
Loompanics no longer publishes manuals on bomb-making due to a bill passed during the Clinton Administration. “[While it’s] illegal to sell information about weapons of mass destruction, the information is there, you can find it on the Internet, you can find it anywhere,” said Cosindas.
Yes. Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors is considered the impetus for the above-mentioned legislation co-written by Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Anyone who wants to buy the book, can still do so although Hit Man was blamed for being the cause of a triple murder. This subsequently cost its publisher, Paladin Press, a multimillion-dollar settlement. Still, one can find this book for sale on Amazon.com because the bill applied only to sellers who “intend” the bomb-making information be used to commit crimes. Amazon can plausibly (easily!) argue that they only want to make a profit.
“People seem to think that books can be guilty,” muses Cosindas. “What I see as one of the biggest problems of the Patriot Act is [its] chilling effect on people. You go to the library, you check out books, and you have to wonder if this is a book that they’re going to think a terrorist would check out. If you are afraid to buy books, if you are afraid to check out a book, that’s what I think is wrong.”
Filters, Records, Purges and Policies
Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend still uses an old fashioned cash register and microfiche to do business, keeping no computerized records of purchases. Owner Judy Hartman said, “I am aware of [what’s going on] and we have signed petitions presented by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association that have been sent on to Washington DC.”
Alan Turner of Port Angeles’ Port Book and News explained, “We have a reader’s dozen program that does [track] the titles people purchase, but only because the software won’t work any other way. If the FBI ever does contact us, we will just get a lawyer. If I gotta go to jail, I gotta go to jail. I am naïve enough to think I can delete the file before the FBI gets here. If they want to throw me in jail for that, they can. Even bad publicity is good publicity.”
In the Port Townsend Public Library hangs a plaque with the words of the First Amendment prominently displayed below a picture of Thomas Jefferson. The Port Townsend Public Library and Jefferson County Public Library have both avoided use of any software filters on their Internet terminals thus far, although in December 2000 the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was signed into law requiring public libraries using federal funds to also use filter software. Since then, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ALA have filed a suit seeking to overturn it. In federal court, May 2002, the portion of the CIPA relating to public libraries was ruled unconstitutional. The case is now before the US Supreme Court. Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA’s Washington DC office, hopes a decision is reached before the Court recesses in July.
“We are waiting for the decision on the CIPA,” said Port Townsend Library Director, Linnea Patrick. While libraries are notoriously under-funded institutions, Patrick noted that the amount of money granted by the feds to Port Townsend’s library in the past simply wasn’t worth the hours it took to fill out the application forms. “But it would be a substantial loss to us to not be able to apply for federal money in the future,” she said.
Because the Jefferson County Library and Port Townsend Public Library share the same circulation database, both libraries “break all links from patron to book two weeks after material is returned,” said Ms. Patrick. “We have to keep the information for that long in case we find damage or pieces missing,” she explained.
Patrick is drafting signage which addresses the Patriot Act to present to the library board. They have decided to take this approach instead of implementing a policy as such.
At the Jefferson County Public Library, the terminal sign-up sheets are kept behind the reference desk out of public view and only first names are used. The cache is destroyed upon rebooting. A retreat is being planned for staff training on how to respond should the G-Man appear.
The Internet terminals at Peninsula College’s Library & Media Center are first-come-first serve and no sign-up is required. The reference librarian informed Vigilance in a phone call that “a patron’s history is not automatically purged upon return of library materials. Instead, this is done manually on a periodic basis.”
When asked what “periodic” meant, the librarian abruptly said, “You have to ask the library director about that.”
Library director, Paula Doherty, she said she “[didn’t] know” and referred the question to Shellie Whittaker, the information technologist for the system.
Whittaker explained that if a patron checks out a book and returns it, the record is “expired” on an annual basis. Once the record has been “expired” for a year, the record is then manually purged. This means a patron’s history will stay in the system anywhere from one to two years: one year if a patron never uses the library again, up to two years if a patron continues to use the library.
“What does this have to do with the Patriot Act?” she asked. Well, with the Patriot Act the FBI may come in and request a patron’s history…
“They could do that before the Patriot Act [with court order],” she countered. That’s true, however now the librarian may not inform the patron that their record has been turned over to law enforcement.
“I didn’t know that. I guess that’s bad, huh?”
Whittaker also said that although the college personnel does not monitor Internet use, “we reserve the right to do so.” In reference to the writing of this article, she commented, “What a great goal in life—to scare people away from the library.”
[b]Patriot Act Fallout[/b]
Some members of Congress seem to have second thoughts about at least some of the Patriot Act. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill (HR 1157) in March to exempt libraries and booksellers from the provisions of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The bill has roughly 70 co-sponsors, including a half-dozen Republicans. Under the bill, called the Freedom to Read Protection Act, bookstore and library records could still be sought by law enforcement, but only with probable cause. This bill is currently in committee.
Meanwhile, Andrew O’Connor is seeking redress for his “detainment.” He figures authorities grabbed him that day without knowing he was an attorney, and “they messed up.”
“What if I’d been someone who didn’t know his rights? Finally, they got frustrated and let me go.”
He figures he was targeted “because they don’t like my politics.”
“They were asking me about Israel. Back in Boulder, CO, (O’Connor lived in Boulder before moving to Santa Fe) I was involved with the Coalition for Peace and Justice
in Palestine and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. They knew I was an activist and knew I was getting emails.”
O’Connor has sent a letter to the Santa Fe city attorney stating he will accept a $50,000 settlement without going to court. He has given them 15 days to respond. If they do not, O’Connor will litigate the case himself and sue the police department in excess of $150,000 in damages. He has not decided upon a course of action where St. John’s College is concerned.
He has not been back to Meem Library since the incident.
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