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Librarians cautious of Patriot Act

Peoria Journal Star | April 17, 2005

In the wake of the 9-11 attacks, Congress hurriedly passed legislation to give the government additional tools in the fight against terrorism.
That legislation, the Patriot Act of 2001, has been criticized for giving the federal government too much power to invade American citizens' private lives.

About 15 people gathered at the Lake-view YWCA on Saturday morning to hear about the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act, which would repeal some of the powers granted to the government under the Patriot Act. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, which has endorsed the SAFE Act.

Librarians opposed the Patriot Act from its inception because the act gives the government the right to search a patron's library records, said Bob Black, director of the Peoria Public Library.

"We reacted very strongly from the very beginning," Black said.

If someone's reading habits indicate a person's inclination to commit a crime, then anyone who reads a mystery novel is a suspect, Black said.

Peoria attorney Phil Lenzini also spoke at the forum, where he said the government is most likely to use the Patriot Act to access information on patrons' Internet usage. After all, some of the 9-11 hijackers used library computers in planning their attack.

After 9-11, the FBI requested access to library records in Illinois. And the library "told them that we would be happy to give them information if they got a warrant," Lenzini said.

If there is probable cause to have the information, then librarians will give the information. However, the government should have an impartial court review the evidence that probable cause exists, Lenzini said.

The U.S. attorney general is not impartial because he represents the Department of Justice, Lenzini said. So, an impartial court should be used to review any request, which the Patriot Act does not currently require.

The Patriot Act was passed Oct. 26, 2001 - a little more than six weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The government wanted to protect the American people, but the legislation was "hastily written," Black said.

"And it was written to close off our border . . . and allow the FBI to enter our lives without judicial review," he said.

The SAFE Act would limit the use of secret warrants to search homes or businesses and require more oversight on such warrants, according to the League of Women Voters. It also would require evidence that a suspect is a spy or foreign agent before records, including library records, could be searched.

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