Monday, March 17, 2003

The Pursuit of Liberty.....

The Patriot Act, passed in reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gives the FBI and other federal agencies broad new powers to track down suspected terrorists by demanding records of books sold from bookshops and borrowed from libraries. Previously, Federal agents needed a court order to ask for records of books purchased or borrowed by a specific individual believed to be a security risk. Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can make a general request for customer lists, so that they can see who is reading what. According to a study by the University of Illinois' Library Research Center, 11% of the public libraries in the United States have received a request for member borrowing records since September 11, 2001.

Generally, I think the privacy advocates get a little carried away. People who refuse to use EZ-Pass at highway toll booths because they don't want the government "knowing their movements" seem silly to me. If you're not breaking the law, you don't have anything to worry about. I like the convenience of using EZ-Pass on the highway, and don't worry about the fact that there is a record of my movement in a computer file somewhere.

However, the Patriot Act feels more invasive, in a scary way. I started thinking about what I'm reading right now. Hmmmm.....likely to be a problem if someone cared to look. There are three books on my bedside table. THE QUR'AN: AN INTRODUCTION, by Mohammed Abu-Hamdiyyah. Since I believe that we must engage in dialogue to try to solve the current schism between the Muslim world and the U.S., I am seeking understanding. THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT, by Bryan Talbot - a graphic novel about a girl trying to come to terms with having been an incest victim. A partner and I are considering pitching an adaptation of this book as a youth-oriented film. SMALL WONDER: ESSAYS, by Barbara Kingsolver - many of these pieces were written in response to the events of September 11, and focus on the growing social and economic inequities that she feels contributed to these events. Heck, I subscribe to a daily emailed devotional from, who would technically be considered a "religious sect," if one was looking for a suspicious pattern.

U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders (Indep-Vt.) has filed a bill in the House of Representatives called the Freedom to Read Protection Act. It would restore the requirement for federal agents to produce a specific warrent at to bookstores and libraries. Sanders' bill would also require government agencies to report to Congress regularly on how many bookstores and libraries have been subjected to searches for records and what the searches have yielded that has actually reduced the threat of terrorism. I'm certainly going to let Sue Kelly, my congresswoman, know that I'd like her to vote YES on this bill!

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