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NEWS- So far: No terrorists or FBI sighted in libraries

Published 07/04/02 in issue #22 of The Hook


The FBI can march into a library and demand the records of patrons suspected of terrorist activities, thanks to the Patriot Act that President Bush signed last October in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The new law also makes it a criminal act for librarians to give out details of such requests.

The Hook checked in with local libraries to see if the FBI had been in town looking at patrons' borrowing records. Jefferson-Madison Regional Library Director John Halliday reports no requests.

At UVA, a student was suspected of having terrorist ties when a letter he wrote to his brother mentioned jihad. Did that national news story bring in the FBI? "Not to my knowledge," says Melissa Norris, director of communications and publications for UVA's libraries.

If the FBI comes calling, both library systems have procedures to be followed before they will turn over a patron's records.

"Our policy is based on the Code of Virginia," says Norris. "We may not produce records of the identity of borrowers or what they checked out except as instructed by UVA legal counsel."

She adds, "We want to cooperate with the FBI, but we need to maintain state confidentiality laws."

At Jefferson-Madison libraries, "the FBI first would have to show us a subpoena or official reason to look," says Halliday. "We'd take it to the county attorney and the library board of trustees."

The more militant American Library Association urges librarians who don't want to roll over on their patrons to discard borrowing records as soon as they're no longer needed, according to the Associated Press.

"People are scared, and they think that by giving up their rights, especially their right to privacy, they will be safe," ALA director for intellectual freedom Judith Krug tells the AP. "But it wasn't the right to privacy that let terrorists into our nation. It had nothing to do with libraries or library records."

Local libraries are not planning to change their record-keeping procedures.

At Jefferson-Madison libraries, a procedure is in place should a suspicious-looking patron come in and request a book on bomb making, although Halliday adds, "I don't think we have any books on bomb making."

UVA does not have a written policy on dealing with suspicious-looking borrowers "to my knowledge," says Norris, who adds, "It's not really the librarian's job to be a watchdog."

Norris doesn't know whether UVA holds any books on bomb making. "We do have almost 5 million volumes on many topics," she says.

Neither Halliday nor Norris condemns the FBI's new ability to rifle through records.

However, Halliday does want to reassure borrowers: "We do everything to protect patrons' privacy."


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