A sort of gag order built into the Patriot Act prevents librarians from telling users when their reading records are subject to a warrantless search. (So the rationale that the act is benign, because no one has shown harm from it, is complete Doublethink.)
Newly public findings of an anonymous, American Library Association-sponsored survey reveal that, since October, 2001, 66 libraries “received informal law enforcement requests without an official legal order.” Twenty-four of the requests were federal. The New York Times reports:
Last June, a library user who took out a book there, “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” noticed a handwritten note in the margin remarking that “Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God,” and went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agents, in turn, went to the library seeking names and information on anyone checking out the biography since 2001.
The library’s lawyers turned down the request, and agents went back with a subpoena. Joan Airoldi, who runs the library, said in an interview that she was particularly alarmed after a Google search revealed that the handwritten line was an often-cited quotation from Mr. bin Laden that was included in the report issued by the Sept. 11 commission.
The library fought the subpoena, and the F.B.I. withdrew its demand.
“A fishing expedition like this just seems so un-American to me,” Ms. Airoldi said. “The question is, how many basic liberties are we willing to give up in the war on terrorism, and who are the real victims?”