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


 
Anthony's fans are many in this town of nearly 64,000 people. John Wozniak, current president of the library board and former dean at Loyola University, jokes that he is "about ready to canonize her." Illinois Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky, a Democrat, has a framed copy of the Skokie Public Library's Patriot Act warning sign hanging on her office wall. Schakowsky describes Anthony as a "true patriot."

Yet there are those, like Attorney General Ashcroft, who consider Anthony's work and the efforts of like-minded groups to be an overreaction. Shouldn't we be willing, they ask, to tolerate a few small modifications in the conduct of our life if that can assist the government to prevent terrorism and protect the people?

Anthony maintains that existing criminal statutes provide law enforcement officials with the legal grounds to conduct investigations. In the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, for instance, library records were used to build the prosecution's case, and access to those records was gained through due process. The difference, according to Anthony, is that the pre-Patriot laws required a burden of proof and guaranteed the checks and balances that are the foundation of the American legal system and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

The independent courts that are intended to counteract abuse of the system are now written out of the process, she says. "Everything is done internally by the Justice Department and there are no protections for the person being investigated," Anthony said.

As a person well-versed in semantics, Anthony also is critical of the way in which the act is clothed in language that dissuades opposition. "To criticize it appears treasonous," she said, "and there are people who say we are not patriotic because we oppose the act." She notes that the Skokie Public Library, like many other libraries, has in fact taken precautions such as having users sign up for computer time, installing logins that permit registered patrons only and publicizing policies regarding appropriate Internet use in light of the potential for usage to be monitored. Anthony also reminds audiences at her talks that librarians' opposition to this most recent legislation is based not only on the fact that historically, and by law, librarians are entrusted with the confidentiality of what people read but also on their memory of another shameful period of American history: the McCarthy Era. During that period, and during the 1980s under the Public Awareness Program, the FBI attempted to monitor reading habits. Then, as now, librarians came out in force.