In the Minnesota Daily yesterday: USA Patriot act allows easier access to library records.

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act last year in a flurry of anti-terrorist hype. One of the things this act did was to make it easier for Federal authorities to access library records. No probably cause need be demonstrated to obtain a warrant.

“With the USA Patriot Act and its amending of FISA, the FBI only has to show a secret court that what they were searching for is relevant to a terrorist investigation,” Freedman [president of the American Library Association] said. “It’s in a secret court. The library has no appeals process. The search warrant can be served immediately. There’s no due process.”

Distressingly, librarians can’t even admit whether they’ve been asked to relinquish records. The act states that “no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI has sought or obtained tangible things.”

Librarians are rightfully outraged.

This came up a couple months ago at work in a debate about new security policies for MnSCU (my employer). MnSCU’s been exploring options for securing public-access computers against attack or being used in attacks. One of the options put forward for consideration — one of several proposals, I want to emphasize — involved requiring logins for all computer use. This inspired vigorous and at times histrionic debate, in part because of poor communication typical of an organization with over 15,000 employees, but also because librarians are keenly aware of the USA Patriot Act and have no desire to participate in activity that puts them in the position of policing library patrons, risking both civil and academic liberty.