Under Obama, feds may still snoop library files


Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
January 18, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general has endorsed an extension of the law that allows federal agents to demand Americans’ library and bookstore records as part of terrorism probes, dismaying a national group of independent booksellers.

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Eric Holder said at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he supports renewing a section of the USA Patriot Act that allows FBI agents investigating international terrorism or espionage to seek records from businesses, libraries and bookstores. If not renewed by Congress, the provision will expire at the end of 2009.

The searches must be authorized by a court that meets secretly and has approved the government’s requests in nearly all cases, according to congressional reports. The target of the search does not have to be suspected of terrorism or any other crime. A permanent gag order that accompanies each search prohibits the business or library from telling anyone about it.

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