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The Usa Patriot Act: How Does It Affect Libraries?

2098 words - 8 pages

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safetydeserve neither liberty nor safety." --Ben FranklinThe USA PATRIOT Act (the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) is described simply as a bill "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools and for other purposes" (H.R.3162). This bill passed through the major checks and balances of our government within three days, with very little resistance. The USA PATRIOT Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 24, 2001 and was passed on the same day by a vote of 357 (yeas) to 66 (nays). The Senate passed the bill with an almost unanimous vote of 98 (yeas) to 1 (nays) the very next day. On October 26, 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act became a law with the signature of President Bush. While this act has been instated with the safety of our nation in mind, the American Library Association (ALA) has become very concerned with the power it affords the government.The bill was passed through Congress at such a fast pace that there was not enough time for amendments and "some representatives complained on the floor that they had not even had time to read the bill" (ALA #4). The Government views this law as a means to stop terrorism, while activists working for civil liberties see many parts of this act as radical, trampling on American's constitutional rights. "The Act sacrifices our freedoms in the name of national security and upsets the democratic values that define our nation by consolidating vast new powers in the executive branch of government" (Chang, p.14). Our government was founded on a system of checks and balances in order to avoid an abuse of power from any branch of the government. This act eliminates that system by opening up the potential for abuse, especially since officials do not have to disclose what they are doing.Attorney General John Ashcroft has stated that America must fight terrorism by summoning "all our strength and all our resources and devote ourselves to better way to identify, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks" (Department of Justice). Even though the PATRIOT Act does not mention libraries specifically, the ALA is mostly concerned with three points that will affect its member institutions: "1) the broad definition of terrorist to include any cybercrime; 2) access to library records [Section 215]; 3) use of library systems for active surveillance and wiretapping." (ALA #4)Section 215 affects the confidentiality of library records and is of the most concern for the ALA. This provision allows FBI agents to obtain a search warrant that will allow them to view an individual's confidential library records without probable cause--agents only need to indicate that they believe the person is involved in terrorism is some way. Section 215 amends the Right to Privacy Act, violating the ALA's...

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