Posted: 5/13/2002 11:57:08 PM EDT
But, but, but it will only be used against non-citizens! HA!
Has the Attorney General Been Reading Franz Kafka?
Big John Wants Your Reading List
During the congressional debate on John Ashcroft's USA Patriot Act, an
American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet on the bill's assaults on
the Bill of Rights revealed that Section 215 of the act "would grant
FBI agents across the country breathtaking authority to obtain an
order from the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]
court . . . requiring any person or business to produce any books,
records, documents, or items."
This is now the law, and as I wrote last week, the FBI, armed with a
warrant or subpoena from the FISA court, can demand from bookstores
and libraries the names of books bought or borrowed by anyone
suspected of involvement in "international terrorism" or "clandestine
Once that information is requested by the FBI, a gag order is
automatically imposed, prohibiting the bookstore owners or librarians
from disclosing to any other person the fact that they have received
an order to produce documents.
You can't call a newspaper or a radio or television station or your
representatives in Congress. You can call a lawyer, but since you
didn't have any advance warning that the judge was issuing the order,
your attorney can't have objected to it in court. He or she will be
hearing about it for the first time from you.
I have been told that at least three of these court orders have been
served, but that's all the information I was given—not the names of
the bookstores or the libraries. And I can't tell you my source.
Courts do infrequently impose gag orders preceding or during trials,
and newspapers sometimes successfully fight them. But never in the
history of the First Amendment has any suppression of speech been so
sweeping and difficult to contest as this one by Ashcroft.
For example, if a judge places a gag order on the press in a case
before the court, the press can print the fact that it's been
silenced, and the public will know about it.
But now, under this provision of the USA Patriot Act, how does one
track what's going on? How many bookstores and libraries will have
their records seized? Are any of them bookstores or libraries that
you frequent? Are these court orders part of FBI fishing expeditions,
like Ashcroft's mass roundups of immigrants?
And if the FBI deepens its concerns about terrorist leanings after
inspecting a suspect's reading list, how can everyone else know what
books will make the FBI worry about us?
As one First Amendment lawyer said to me, "What makes this so
chilling is that there is no input into the process." First there is
the secrecy in which the subpoenas are obtained—with only the FBI
present in court. Then then there is the gag order commanding the
persons receiving the subpoenas to remain silent.
Has John Ashcroft been reading Franz Kafka lately?
As I often do when Americans' freedom to read is imperiled, I called
Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the
American Library Association. I've covered, as a reporter, many cases
of library censorship, and almost invariably, the beleaguered
librarians have already been on the phone to Judy Krug. She is the
very incarnation of the author of the First Amendment, James Madison.
When some librarians—because of community pressure or their own
political views, right or left—have wanted to keep books or other
material from readers, Judy has fought them. She is also the leading
opponent of any attempt to curb the use of the Internet in public
As she has often said, "How can anyone involved with libraries stand
up and say, 'We are going to solve problems by withholding
I called to talk with her about the FBI's new power to force
libraries to disclose the titles of books that certain people are
reading—and she, of course, knew all about this part of the USA
Patriot Act. And the rest of it, for that matter.
She told me how any library can ask for help—without breaking the gag
order and revealing a FISA visit from the FBI. The librarian can
simply call her at the American Library Association in Chicago and
say, "I need to talk to a lawyer," and Judy will tell her or him how
to contact a First Amendment attorney.
The reason the president and the attorney general have so far been
able to trade civil liberties for security is they know from the
polls that they can count on extensive support. Most Americans are
indeed willing to forgo parts of the Bill of Rights for safety.
Only by getting more and more Americans to realize that they
themselves—not just noncitizens—can be affected by these amputations
of the Bill of Rights will there be a critical mass of resistance to
what Ashcroft and Bush are doing to our liberties.
Accordingly, the press ought to awaken the citizenry not only to the
FBI's harvesting lists of what "suspect" Americans read, but also to
the judicial silencing of bookstores and libraries that are being
compelled to betray the privacy and First Amendment rights of
I would welcome any advice from civil liberties lawyers on ways to
counter both this provision of the USA Patriot Act and the gag order,
which is the sort of silencing you'd expect of China or Iraq.
Remember the repeated assurances by the president, the attorney
general, and the secretary of defense that any security measures
taken in the war on terrorism would be within the bounds of the
George Orwell said: "If large numbers of people believe in freedom of
speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it.
But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be
persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."
Today, the public doesn't even know about this provision in the
strangely titled USA Patriot Act. A lot of people are still afraid to
get on a plane. Is Ashcroft fearful that if people find out about his
interest in what they're reading, they'll be afraid to go to
libraries and bookstores—and will start asking questions about what
the hell he thinks he's doing? And where is Congress?
TIN FOIL HAT ALERT!!!!![:D]
In all seriousness, I believe this is why Ashcroft has been taking such a pro 2nd amendment stance. If he gives us guns, he gets our minds off of the major issues of citizenship cards and other invasions of privacy. How many of us would be paying attention if, in one breath Ashcroft repealed the AW ban, and in the next introduced law to require citizenship cards?
IMBROGLIO What you said, but it is just as lame as it is true. That's just to broad as assuming that anyone can understand the propensity of the volume that is hurled at us at one time. While the PA bill may have been well meant at the time of the trade towers atrocity,it truly is ten steps back with the common mans civil liberty. As it was written to sunset,will it? To let congress(the president)usurp these rights for whatever the reasons we will have to live with for a while.
Then if it doesn't sunrise or sunset then we should consider ways to bring about change as the very constitution calls for it, ballots and at last resort bullets.
Thanks IMBROGLIO bob 
[b]Accordingly, the press ought to awaken the citizenry..... [/b][shock]
Imbroglio, I think you worry too much. As our good buddy Mr Clinton put it, "We can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans..." (USA TODAY, 11 March 1993, page 2A)
The Center for Constitutional Rights has a great analysis of the Patriot Act. No surprise that they hate it, as they should. It's unconstitutional and the Orwellian nature has only begun to surface.
Also, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) hates it.
It's only just begun. And don't forget that everyone who says that we shouldn't worry because it expires?? Only the electronic surveillance portion has a sunset provision. Also, nowhere does it limit the provisions to foreign nationals (as many people mistakenly believe that it doesn't affect US citizens).
It's a Brave New World. Thousand Points of Light. New World Order.
I am far right wing, but these peope are dictators.
I remember when the "Conspiracy Laws" were being passed. These laws were to be used only in the fight against organized crime. (Yeah, right !)
Unfortunately, laws passed and on the books apply to us all.
My desire to pat Ashcroft on the back or kick him in the ass seems to change on a daily basis.
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