Patriot Act allows federal agents access to library, bookstore records
The terrorist acts of Sept.
11, 2001, prompted Congress to pass a bill that, among other things, would allow FBI agents to find out what books library patrons are checking out and what they are viewing on the Internet.
And if an FBI agent arrives at a front counter of a library, staffers are barred under the provisions of the USA Patriot Act from disclosing the visit, as privacy protection for the person under investigation.
The Patriot Act, which was signed by President Bush in October 2001, applies to bookstores as well as libraries.
The act contains provisions to protect the constitutional rights of library patrons, according to Bonnie Campbell, director of the Mohave County library system, and FBI and U.S.
Department of Justice officials.
They stressed that FBI agents need to obtain court orders or subpoenas from federal judges in order to seek records of books being checked out and Internet usage, which county library employees do not monitor.
"This is a provision that only applies to agents of foreign powers or suspected terrorists," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
"It cannot be used against United States citizens or green card holders unless there is a reasonable suspicion and evidence to link them to a foreign power or a terrorist group."
Corallo said some of the Sept.
11 plane hijackers used Internet service at a public library in Hollywood, Fla., to communicate by e-mail with "terrorist compatriots" in foreign countries and within the United States before that date.
The government hopes to prevent future terrorist attacks with better intelligence gathering made possible under the Patriot Act.
John Iannarelli, a special agent with the national press office of the FBI in Washington, said the Patriot Act enables agents to obtain information currently available to local and state law enforcement officers.
"When we conduct investigations that incorporate the use of the Patriot Act, we work very closely with the Department of Justice and take guidance from the Attorney General's Office and the local United States attorney to make sure we are within the guidelines of the act," Iannarelli said.
Others, including civil libertarians, believe that the Patriot Act could erode personal freedoms in the United States.
"From what little I know, I'm strictly against it," said Al Koffman, a 13-year Kingman resident who is retired from the U.S.
Air Force and the aerospace industry.
"I have been a Republican for 50 years now, and I am scared with their approach to civil rights, you might say," Koffman said.
"We used to worry about the Democrats, and now we have to worry about the Republicans."
Koffman's fears are unwarranted, according to Corallo, Iannarelli and Campbell.
Campbell said only three of the 75 library district employees are authorized to speak to the FBI: herself and library services manager Ferrell Morgan in Kingman and Julie Huelsbeck in Bullhead City.
"According to the Patriot Act, staff is not compelled to voluntarily disclose information about what a customer does," Campbell said.
She added that her staff plans to devise procedures by the end of this week for complying with the act.
Hypothetically, Campbell said, an FBI agent could have requested what books Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, checked out during a six-month period.
She said the FBI sought that information from McVeigh, who lived in the Kingman area during early 1990s.
Access to a reading list can determine intent, said Lee Fabrizio, a retired FBI agent who led the Kingman investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing following McVeigh's arrest in 1995.
"The reason you do that is you want to get behind the thought process and their intent," said Fabrizio, a Kingman resident.
"If a guy said, 'I never had any intention of doing this' (while testifying) in a trial, it goes toward what he was thinking about previously."
Corallo concurred, saying FBI agents could try to determine whether a suspect used the Internet in a library to do research on weapons training, bomb making or terrorist tactics, or bought books on how to make explosives.
Campbell stressed that library employees do not monitor computer usage and would not report to authorities any suspicious reading habits.
"Consequently, how are we going to know, for instance, if someone is reading a book on handguns?" Campbell asked.
"It is a violation of that person's constitutional rights if we report what that person is reading."