Librarians Bristle At Patriot Act

An Afghan woman waits near a wall covered with electoral posters in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009. Afghan President Hamid Karzai reached out to his opponents, saying that he will welcome opponents into his government and promising reforms to root out corruption that has undermined trust in his administration Tuesday, a day after he was declared victor of a presidential election. AP Photo/Farzana Wahidy

Across the country librarians and bookstore owners are worried that reading the wrong book could make them suspect, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

Neal Coonerty, who owns a bookstore in Santa Cruz, California says, "We've always argued that what you read is not necessarily who you are. So if you read a murder mystery, it does not mean that you are plotting a murder."

Coonerty is among those who have joined a growing campaign against some provisions of the USA Patriot Act. The Act, approved hastily by Congress days after September 11th, makes it much easier for federal investigators to seize records of bookstores and libraries.

"Going into bookstores, going into libraries, finding out what people are reading is not really going to make us safer from terrorism," Coonerty says.

Customers at his store are warned that their purchases may not be private, and the best way to asure that they are is to pay in cash.

And just around the corner at the public library, the shredder starts up at the end of every day, destroying records of reference requests and Internet usage, Blackstone notes.

"The right to privacy is a basic American right," Anne Turner, the head librarian in one Santa Cruz facility, reminds Blackstone. She has put up signs warning patrons the FBI could be watching.

"They can sort of go fishing, thinking there might be terrorists in Santa Cruz and so they can get a court order to look at library records," Turner says.

Santa Cruz is among more than 80 communities nationwide that have passed local measures opposing the Patriot Act, Blackstone points out, but federal law enforcement officials say the act has played an important role in solving major terrorism cases.

Patriot Act supporters say some of the September 11th hijackers used library Internet terminals to communicate. They say a balance has been struck between liberty and security. "Apocalyptic visions of the demise of American civil liberties are widely overblown," says one, Paul Rosenzweig.

Lawmakers may agree, Blackstone says. The Justice Department is already floating the idea of Patriot Act II. But to residents of this liberal California town, that sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel, Blackstone says.
  • Brian Dakss

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