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Show me your Library Card

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

(SSN Washington) Today, the House voted to block the FBI and the Justice Department from using the Patriot Act to search library and bookstore records. Many members of the House voted to block the provision believing it a potential invasion of the privacy of innocent citizens.

Attorney General Gonzales points out that the act has been used sparingly.

Lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the provision, despite a promise by President Bush to use his veto power. The vote went very different from the vote last year that died due to a 210-210 tie.

Many are confused about why it is so important to block the provision. While it does constitute an unusual invasion of privacy, Attorney General Gonzales points out that the act has been used sparingly. The government has never used the provision permitting secret warrants for “books, records, papers, documents and other items” to obtain library, bookstore, medical, or gun sale records, he said last April.

Your local librarian says that he thinks it is an invasion of privacy.

However, many have argued that the Patriot Act has not had to be invoked often due to fear of the Patriot Act. Basically, the argument goes like this. Say your local librarian gets a visit from an FBI agent, and that FBI agent wants a list of everyone who has checked out a specific book defined as terrorist friendly: for instance “Ecstasy and Me”, by Hedy Lamarr. Your local librarian says that he thinks it is an invasion of privacy. The FBI agent then tells him that he can invoke the Patriot Act, and the librarian will have to give up the information. Your librarian refuses. Finally, the FBI agent tells your librarian that he has a lot of nice books and that it’s a pity that books are so flammable, and wouldn’t it be a shame if anything happened to this nice library.

The issue of medical records has been another problem area for the provision. But Gonzales points out that if a nuclear or biological agent is discovered during a colonoscopy, he wants to have a finger in it.


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