Library shuns big brother
The records of library patrons in Vance County are more protected with recently implemented privacy policies.
Beginning this week, Perry Memorial Library in Henderson offers patrons the option to turn off their check-out history and further protects reading privacy by removing items placed on hold at the front desk from public view.
“The public can now have some control over what information the government can have,” said Jennifer Brax, adult services librarian at Perry Memorial.
Section 215 of the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act, or the USA Patriot Act, authorizes the FBI to obtain “any tangible things,” including books, records and other items from any business or organization if those items are related to an investigation to protect against terrorist activity.
This provision, commonly referred to as the library provision, of the Patriot Act did not create new authority but it expanded the existing authority found in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act, or FISA, of 1978.
In 2011, Congress voted to renew Section 215 of the Patriot Act for four more years, until June 1, 2015.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone said libraries across the country have been taking measures to protect patrons’ privacy for decades. She is the deputy director for the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“The issue, really, is that people have an expectation of privacy in what they read,” Caldwell-Stone said. “The First Amendment encompasses a right to read and a right to read confidentially.”
She said there are many library systems across the U.S. that automatically erase the patron’s history.
“In these cases, library users do not have a choice,” she said.
When new residents apply for a library card at Perry Memorial, Brax said they will be asked about having their check-out history turned off.
Current library users can request to have their check-out history turned off.
The state general statue that addresses the confidentiality of library user records says that a library cannot disclose any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library.
But library records may be disclosed “when necessary for the reasonable operation of the library, upon written consent of the user, or pursuant to subpoena, court order, or where otherwise required by law.”
Brax said she has seen government officials confiscate library property for investigations in other state facilities.
“Nobody is aware of it and even if they are aware of it, they are not aware of potential consequences of law enforcement having those records,” Brax said. “People don’t realize this happens. We want people to know they can still come to the library and read anonymously.”
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