Freedom Fighter

Freedom Fighter

Picture this: You go into the local library, drop off the kids at story hour and browse the Internet while you wait. You follow a couple of leads, track a few sources, read some international takes on American foreign policy. Later that day the FBI pays a visit to your local librarian to check what you read. You are now part of a secret investigation pertaining to "the enforcement of federal laws," none of which you have violated. Unlikely? Carolyn Additon Anthony '71 doesn't think so.

By Ru Freeman

#pondering931#right#75%#The attorney general and other proponents of the act say extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Most Americans are willing to make allowances that will help the government prevent terrorism, the law's backers maintain.

In fact, four important members of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently voiced qualified support of portions of the new law. While predicting that the "shroud of secrecy" surrounding the act would doom its chances of reauthorization, at the first oversight hearings on the measures Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) called criticism of the act "ill-informed and overblown." Despite her office receiving 21,434 letters opposing the new law, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) made a strong defense of the act, saying there is "substantial uncertainty and some ignorance" regarding the way the act works. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, said he supports a majority of its provisions and the rest are "fixable," a sentiment that has caused him and some of his liberal colleagues to join forces with conservatives in promoting changes to the act.

Even the ACLU does not support repealing all of the anti-terrorism measures. Its legislative counsel, Timothy Edgar, has said that would be a "crazy idea . . . there are reasonable things in the Patriot Act," among them a provision requiring periodic reports on the impact of the law on civil liberties.

Anthony's camp, however, charges that the measure was a too-hasty response on the part of the Bush administration to the national tragedy and warns that the next potential iteration of the law, "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," commonly known as Patriot II, would be even more draconian. That bill has not been introduced (a leaked version sparked widespread opposition), but parts of it have surfaced in various pieces of legislation still in process.

In the meantime, Anthony points to a section of the existing 265-page Patriot Act that permits the FBI to examine library records. Her protest, she says, springs from the ethical foundations of a profession based on access to information. A strong believer in the value of an informed electorate and the need to preserve the library as a community space and forum, she feels the new law violates core principles of librarianship. "As librarians," Anthony said, "we had to balance our civic duty to comply with the law while preserving the role of the library as a conduit of information, bearing in mind the importance of upholding constitutional rights to privacy."

Critics say the law also dramatically expands the ability of states and the federal government to conduct surveillance of American citizens and permanent residents as well as legal and illegal immigrants, eliminates some government accountability, authorizes the FBI to search your house without your knowledge, does not limit itself to terrorist activity and, moreover, shrouds itself and its work in a cloak of secrecy that is anathema to the foundation of governance and civic participation.