while you were midwintering….

Hi. I’m back and very tired. Midwinter went fairly well from my perspective. Council meetings seemed effective. I got to see most of the people i tried to see and had some nice serendipitous meetings with others. My company was part usual suspects and part people I’d never met before including a healthy dose of library students. I learned things. I took a lot of public transportation in an unfamiliar city. I stayed within my budget and I got home feeling smarter than when I left. I have a stack of paperwork that I’d like to share parts of with you but it will need to wait until the weekend.

In the meantime, while we were all at the meeting, this happened “City stalls FBI access in library” referring to the librarian at the Newton Free Library in Massachusetts who wouldn’t let FBI agents in to search library computers without a warrant after there had been emailed threats directed towards Brandeis University sent from one of the library computers. According to an article in the Boston Herald, this was done with the mayor’s knowledge and backing but everyone seems set to blame the librarian anyhow. This was a big enough news items to be the butt of a lot of jokes on talk radio by the time I was driving home from the airport. I’m just starting to read about this story, but correct me if I’m wrong, couldn’t the agents have just asked for the data on the computers, using the USA PATRIOT Act as their legal justification? This seems like a case where they were reluctant to for some reason. The Boston Globe article on the subject says this

[B]y the time a warrant became an issue, law enforcement officials had determined there was no imminent danger and decided to cooperate with Newton officials, Marcinkiewicz said. She said no arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon. [emphasis mine]

National PATRIOT Act call-in Day

It’s a bit of a stunt, but ALA Council is doing a National [USA] PATRIOT Act call-in day at 10 am CST today. All Councilors are going to turn on their cell phones and call their legislators to ask them to

  1. Include language in Section 215 to require a statement of fact linking the person whose records are sought to a terrorism investigation.
  2. Include language to allow a Section 215 recipient to post a meaningful challenge to the FISA court order.
  3. Include language allowing a section 505 recipieint to post a meaningful challenge to a National Security Letter.

Of course, when I’ve been calling my representative, I’ve been going beyond this and expressing grave reservations about Section 215 specifically and other parts of the USA APTRIOT Act generally (specifically concerning wiretaps and electronic communication generally), but this language appears designed to be something that everyone on Council can get behind. So, if you’re free in a few hours, go find your representative and pick up the phone.

PATRIOT Watch: six more months of winter

The sunsetting provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act have been extended for another six months to give senators time to research and debate what checks and balances to put into the USA PATRIOT Act before its complete renewal. This is a hard fought compromise, and it appears that President Bush will not veto it, even though he’s not too pleased.

update: I spoke too soon. The six month extension was what the Senate had passed, and was proposing. The two houses finally agreed on a five week extension.

Little Red Book ILL gets patron a visit from Homeland Security

A student did an ILL for a specific version of Mao’s Little Red Book and wound up getting a visit from Homeland Security. Obviously, there is more to this story than the short news article, but the article alleges that the Department of Homeland Security monitors Interlibrary Loan requests.

update from the bs detector alert: An ALA Councilor notes that there are two versions of this story circulating with different names attached which definitely sounds fishy and makes it worth further investigation into what exactly is going on. Other councilors have emailed the prof from UCSC mentioned in the second article and he said it was the first he’d heard of it. I’ve emailed the reporter and one of the professors cited in the recent article and I’ll let you know what I find out, if anything. Fellow Councilor Rory Litwin has posted this follow-up to the Council list with more first hand information from one of the profesors involved. I posted a follow-up including some feedback I’d gotten from the reporter of the most recent article. BoingBoing is faster with the summary action than I am.

This is all coming on the heels of some unpleasant revelations about the current administration’s use of the National Security Agency to surveil domestic targets without getting FISA court approval. Who would have thought that this decade would be the one where all llibrarians learned what FISA stood for? How many of you watched CSPAN a little more carefully than usual this weekend [or is my house the only house that does this] to see what happened with the USA PATRIOT Act?

radical militant librarians

I’ve been messing a bit with possible commenting options. My apologies for people who saw non-functional comment links. This was in my inbox a few times whn I got back from a weekend trip to Western MA: At F.B.I., Frustration Over Limits on an Antiterror Law

One internal F.B.I. message, sent in October 2003, criticized the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Justice Department, which reviews and approves terrorist warrants, as regularly blocking requests from the F.B.I. to use a section of the antiterrorism law that gave the bureau broader authority to demand records from institutions like banks, Internet providers and libraries.

“While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR’s failure to let us use the tools given to us,” read the e-mail message, which was sent by an unidentified F.B.I. official. “This should be an OIPR priority!!!”

I’m sure it’s lousy to be one of the people who have to use and implement policies that are controversial and/or of questionable legality. However, the pullquote made me smile just the same.

PATRIOT Watch: Four more years.

Crap. My guy — yes I called his office and discussed my opinion on how I felt about the PATRIOT Act as both a librarian and his constituent — did what he could.

National Security Letters, USAPA and you

The Washington Post has an article about the USA PATRIOT Act case from Connecticut, now with details and a long discussion about National Security Letters. Please note the software angle in this article.

[The FBI] gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person” who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow. [emphasis mine]

So you can configure a system to be as private as you can make it, but it may not be private enough.


The judge in the USA PATRIOT Act case in Connecticut [John Doe, et al v Alberto Gonzales, 3:05CV1256] has granted the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary relief [pdf]. Very interesting language in the opinion regarding the USAPA gag order provisions

Considering the current national interest in and the important issues surrounding the debate on renewal of the PATRIOT Act provisions, it is apparent to this court that the loss of Doe’s ability to speak out now on the subject as a NSL recipient is a real and present loss of its First Amendment right to free speech that cannot be remedied.

and later

The potential for abuse is written into the statute: the very people who might have information regarding investigative abuses and overreaching are preemptively prevented from sharing that information with the public…

and later

The defendants have failed to show a compelling state interest that is served by gagging the plaintiffs with regard to Doe’s identity. If the government’s interest is more broadly defined as preventing an unknown subject of the government’s investigation from learning of the government’s investigation, which would support a finding of a compelling interest, the gag provision as to Doe’s identity is not narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

Ashcroft’s “hysteria” remark winds up in the decision as well. The injunction is stayed until the 20th of September to give the government some time to appeal. [alacoun]

USAPA lawsuit?

Sabrina points to some disturbing news from the ACLU about a PATRIOT Act related attempt to demand library records. Thanks to the gag order, the actual ACLU lawsuit has been heavily redacted but it’s summarized in news reports. Note that this is NOT a Section 215 challenge as near as we can tell, though the case in question does seem to pertain to a library or an entity holding library records.

ALA bouncing back, becoming formidable legal foe

The American Bar Association Journal has an article about how ALA is becoming a force to be reckoned with as “one of the most active players in legal fights over technology, copyright, national security, censorship and privacy law.” It’s nice to see them bouncing back after the very depressing CIPA defeat a few years ago. [spacific]