Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Just saying no

Well, the media and civil libertarians may be content to let the Ashcroft Justice Department silently eviscerate our privacy rights under the aegeis of the "war on terror," but at least our librarians know when and where to draw the line.

Up the road in Bellingham, Whatcom County's Deming Library has gotten crosswise of Justice investigators avidly pursuing terror suspects by demanding to know who checked out a biography of Osama bin Laden:
The FBI wants to know who checked out a book from a small library about Osama Bin Laden. But the library isn't giving out names, saying the government has no business knowing what their patrons read.

The library in Deming isn't much larger than a family home. Located in rural Whatcom County, it hardly seems the site for a showdown with the feds.

"I think we all figure it's places like the New York Library System that's going to be one of the first we hear about," said the attorney for the Whatcom County Library System, Deborra Garret.

At the center of the issue, a book titled "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America."

The FBI confiscated the original book after a patron reported than some one hand wrote a bin Laden quote in the margin that read: "Let history be witness I am a criminal."

The FBI demanded to know the names and addresses of everyone who ever checked out the book.

"Libraries are a haven where people should be able to seek whatever information they want to pursue without any threat of government intervention," said Director of Whatcom County Library System, Joan Airoldi.

Because of privacy policies, the library does not give out circulation records without a court order. When the FBI got a grand jury subpoena, the library filed a motion to quash it -- citing the rights of all people who use the library.

"Like the right to read and to read the material of one's choice without fear that someone will come around with questions about why you chose that book," said Garrett.

It's worth noting, however, that if the records had been sought under the Patriot Act, instead of as part of a grand-jury probe, it would have had no choice but to comply.

Via Rod at Proof Through the Night. Kevin Hayden at The American Street has a list of contacts for people to voice their outrage.

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