Rebel Librarians Go On A Tear

Girl in library
Librarians in Palo Alto, California have been shredding some documents and deleting computer files to protect patrons from the USA Patriot Act.

One of the federal anti-terror law's provisions allows the FBI to look at the reading habits of library users. In Palo Alto, six days after a book is returned, all records of the transaction are deleted from the computer. Paper records are shredded.

Library groups are upset with the Patriot Act because it makes it far easier for the FBI to obtain records and offers libraries no way to resist.

An FBI spokesman says if libraries shred their records, the agency will get by without them.

In a recent disclosure of its use of powers granted by the Patriot Act, DOJ said it had conducted searches at libraries less than 50 times since the act passed in October 2001.

A survey by the University of Illinois found that about 10 percent of 906 libraries surveyed in October 2002 reported contact from law enforcement since Sept. 11. Most of those searches, however, did not appear to have been conducted under the Patriot Act.

Meantime, Police Chief Lynne Johnson is supporting a resolution coming before the city council. It would prohibit officers from aiding the FBI in Patriot Act searches, interviews or surveillance without evidence a crime has been committed.

More than 100 cities and one state have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act, saying it gives the federal government too much snooping power. At least a few have refused to enforce it.

The law allows the government to secretly view records of materials checked out of public libraries or bought in bookstores and observe Web activity on library computers. It also forbids librarians or booksellers to talk about any investigations.

Across the country librarians and bookstore owners have objected to that, 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."

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

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.

The level of surveillance conducted under the Patriot Act could become part of the looming debate in Congress over what's being called "Patriot Act II," or the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, which would further expand the government's law enforcement powers.