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The FBI Has Bugged Our Public Libraries

I asked Mary W. Billings, the library's technical services manager, if the FBI had given her a subpoena or a court order for library information. Her response: "I cannot answer that question."

She did confirm that in recent months the FBI made two separate visits to the Hartford Library, and there were discussions about "computer-related information." On one visit, an agent asked to speak to the library staff - a request that was turned down.
Some reports say the FBI is snooping in the libraries. Is that really happening?

Yes. I have uncovered information that persuades me that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has bugged the computers at the Hartford Public Library. And it's probable that other libraries around the state have also been bugged. It's an effort by the FBI to obtain leads that it believes may lead them to terrorists.

Many members of the public regularly use computers in libraries to access the Internet for research purposes or to locate information about particular interests. It's also not uncommon for students and others to communicate with friends and relatives through e-mail from there.

The FBI system apparently involves the installation of special software on the computers that lets the FBI copy a person's use of the Internet and their e-mail messages. (Don't ask me how I know about this because I can't reveal how I was able to collect the information.) Members of the public who use the library have not been informed that the government is watching their activities. It's not just the computers. Circulation lists that show which books someone borrowed are also accessible to the government.

What are the Hartford librarians saying?

"I can't disclose that we were presented with anything," said Louise Blalock, Hartford's head librarian.

I asked Mary W. Billings, the library's technical services manager, if the FBI had given her a subpoena or a court order for library information. Her response: "I cannot answer that question."

She did confirm that in recent months the FBI made two separate visits to the Hartford Library, and there were discussions about "computer-related information." On one visit, an agent asked to speak to the library staff - a request that was turned down.

Interestingly, Billings said, "The library is now working on a public notice that it can't guarantee that there isn't third-party monitoring" for people who use its computers. A library staffer also remarked, "You know there is software that can grab everybody's Internet use."

I know my librarian, and I believe she would tell me if the government were tracking my computer use at the library. Don't you agree?

No way. There's a gag order. When the FBI uses a court order or a subpoena to gain access to library computers or a list of the names of people who have borrowed certain books, librarians can't tell anyone - not even other librarians or you. They face a stiff federal penalty if they do. It's unfair that librarians should be placed in such a position.

Does this mean that when I use the library's computer to do research for college papers on Saudi Arabia or Islam, the FBI could be following my steps on the Internet?

Very possible. Of course, it may depend on which library you visit. And there's no way you're going to be able to find out. The librarians can't tell you, and you're not going to spot the special software in the computers. Even if the software hasn't been installed, there's a back door for the FBI to tap in through. The Internet service providers (businesses located elsewhere) are required to cooperate with the authorities, and spy software can be installed at that end.

But isn't this snooping only going to be used against people suspected of being terrorists?

That's not how it works. It can check on everyone who uses the bugged computers. The rules allow this kind of surveillance even if someone is not suspected of being a terrorist or under any kind of suspicion.

Is there a state law that protects my privacy in the library?

Yes. Circulation records must be kept confidential. However, a new federal law - the U.S. Patriot Act - takes priority over the state rule and allows the FBI to have easy access to these records as well as to the computers.

What are the FBI and the Congress saying about all of this?

Mum's the word. The FBI has refused to discuss the issue, and Congress wants to get more information. It has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to describe what the FBI has been doing in the libraries. But Ashcroft also is not talking and has indicated he doesn't have to answer to Congress.

I've got nothing to hide when I go into a library, and I don't care if the FBI sees what I'm doing at the computer. What's the big deal?

We all want to be safe, and I don't know anyone who opposes the prosecution of terrorists. However, the way it is carried out is important. It comes down to a key question: How does a democracy deal with serious threats from terrorists and maintain its own freedoms?

Three points to consider:

1.) We have to be very careful that we don't fight terrorism in a way that destroys democracy. Terrorists may want us to accept their methods and the idea that our democracy should be tossed away. If that's what they achieve, we will have walked into a trap, and we will have given them a major victory.

2.) Libraries exist to provide information and knowledge to the public. When our own government places librarians in the position of participating, possibly against their will, to "watch" the public, it runs counter to vital principles that have guided us for much of our history.

3.) Protecting our freedom includes being able to openly communicate with each other without worrying that the government is listening or looking over our shoulders. The mere suspicion that we're being watched, even if we're wrong, can intimidate us in expressing our views. If Americans are only going to say and read what is "politically correct," our democracy will be in deep trouble.

Questions can be sent to Bill Olds, in care of The Hartford Courant, Features Department, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 or by e-mail at  docbillo@yahoo.com.

homepage: homepage: http://www.ctnow.com/features/lifestyle/hc-privacy1103.artnov03col.story

The Patriot Act Library "Gag Order" 06.Nov.2002 16:10

concerned citizen

The FBI and other law enforcement officials are absolutely able to enter libraries with the proper court documents and obtain any and all information related to a patron's book check-out history, internet use, etc. Librarians are traditionally very strong proponents of personal privacy and confidentiality. They are very opposed to this invasion of privacy. The ability of law enforcement to obtain information on patron's is not new. What is new, however is the ease of obtaining records through the 2001 Patriot Act, and the added GAG ORDER that is imposed on the Librarians. Text from the American Library Association:

"If the court order is a search warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (USA Patriot Act amendment):
The recommendations for a regular search warrant still apply. However, a search warrant issued by a FISA court also contains a "gag order." That means that no person or institution served with the warrant can disclose that the warrant has been served or that records have been produced pursuant to the warrant.

The library and its staff must comply with this order. No information can be disclosed to any other party, including the patron whose records are the subject of the search warrant."


Welcome Big Brother!

scared librarians 06.Nov.2002 17:40


and librarians have to do what they are told even though some of the books that sit on the shelves of their bases of operations would suggest that they can think and do what they choose to.

i have faith that a librarian wouldn't just go with such an irrational system of thought (someone is guilty because we say they are guilty, a la the State Fuzz) and be able to thwart any such attempts to override the civil liberties of any individuals that utilize library services by informing the authorities responsible for such a rights incursion that their actions make no sense at all. they don't have to resist, just let suckers know that what they are doing makes not much sense.

a psy-0ps/FBI agents brain works pretty much 'the same' as anybody elses (so far as i can understand), so there is a good chance that they will receive the message--the message that they are supporting evil and that there is a possibility that they can at least think about what they are doing before they do it.

"The library and its staff must comply with this order."
--says who? who really is in charge here?

fuck authoritative idiots who care not about people but only about themselves.

The Sheeple have spoken 06.Nov.2002 23:06

Horatio at the Bridge

Anyone who does not think that web sites like this one are intensely monitored, however illegally, by Echelon and whatever supersecret monitoring systems we don't know about, is almost hopelessly naive. Wake up people. Your freedom is swirling around the bowl and about to exit the drain pipe.
Yesterday's election is an effective demonstration of massive vote fraud and that some people will willingly fasten their own slave collar around their neck and then admire it in the mirror. A fashion statement.
Reality is that too many people are willing to be slaves as long as they get a six pack a' Bud and the NFL Circus (Gladitorial Games).
However, they are also passive when patriots rise up and fight back. Cowards are cowards are cowards are cowards. Only about 1/3 of the people of the 13 Colonies actively supported the American Revolution. They were the Tigers who kicked ass and took names later. Remeber that when it comes your turn to fight against the night of the Bush/Clinton regime. And don't kid yourself. Clinton was in this up to his neck - he even used to visit "Poppy's" compound up in good ol' Kennebunkport.

Do not go meekly to your own execution. Spit in their face. Remember Henry Wallace. Remember Patrick Henry, Roger Young - and all the nameless heroes who would not bow their neck meekly to the tyrant's sword.

Remember the 300 Spartans who held 10,000 Persians at bay - and died to the last man - unbroken.