February 22nd, 2005
Library records included in Patriot Act provisions; librarians respond with systematic purging
Civil liberties have become an issue of much debate and concern in recent years due to the passing of the USA Patriot Act in 2001. Library records are an important topic in that debate.
Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act reads, "The director for the FBI, or a designee of the director, may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (such as books, records, papers, documents and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."
Frances O'Brien, dean of West Virginia University Libraries, said libraries should be a place where students can come and find information on any subject they want and not be questioned about it.
When a book is returned to a WVU library, and it is not late, the record of that transaction is deleted.
"We are interested in who has our books checked out, because we may need to contact you if another patron requests the book, or if you forget to return it," O'Brien said. "Once you do return the book to us, or pay any overdue fines on the book, we aren't interested."
The American Civil Liberties Union Web site www.aclu.org, says that, without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now, as a result of the USA Patriot Act, has the power to access each citizen's most private medical records, library records and student records.
Myra Lowe, director of the Downtown Library Complex, said WVU Libraries adheres strictly to the American Library Association's policy on confidentiality.
The ALA policy used by WVU states that library records are highly privileged and confidential. Records are not to be made available except following a process, order or subpoena by law, and that library employees will resist such process, order or subpoena until proper cause has been shown as determined by WVU campus legal counsel.
Unlike book transactions, records of students' online activity are not deleted. Online activity can be monitored, but the library does not make a practice of doing it, Lowe said.
According to the ACLU Web site, "The FBI could invoke Section 215 (the USA PATRIOT Act) to require a library to produce records showing who had borrowed a particular book or to produce records showing who had visited a particular Web site."
"It doesn't really matter to me," said senior Elementary Education major Kathy Doll, about the possibility of having her activity monitored.
Sophomore Political Science major Gwyneth MacMurtrie felt differently.
"Your civil liberties are rights that are given to you. Many of them, in the new information age, are being challenged because of the simple access to computers, medical records and other important documents," she said.
"I do not want people to be able to access my personal information."
By Brian S. Armstrong
Daily Athenaeum Staff Writer