Monday, November 21, 2005

Holding the Line on the PATRIOT Act

Whiplash. That's what it feels like to hear on Thursday it's pretty much over and the PATRIOT Act will be reauthorized, warts and all. And then for a bipartisan handful of senators to do the right thing and refuse to be rushed - once again - into legislation that gives federal law enforcement too much power.

As an editorial in the LA Times says, Congress gave the executive branch the benefit of the doubt when the law was passed. They haven't proven that this set of laws is effective or that they will use it responsibly. Though the Senate's modifications are minor, they are at least symbolic.

I was trying to keep an eye on this developing story when Jane Kirtley came to campus Thursday to speak as part of our involvment in The September Project. Interestingly, though she spoke about the PATRIOT Act, she also spent a lot of time on the various ways this administration is drawing the blinds on government activities. An example: under Attorney General Janet Reno, information requested under the Freedom of Information Act was released unless there was a compelling reason not to. John Ashcroft reversed that formula: information would not be released unless there was a compelling reason to let it out. Fascinating that a government that wants to know so much about us is resisting efforts for the public to know about their activities. Which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider how embarrassing so much of it is.

Though librarians' involvement in PATRIOT Act activism revolves around sections that affect libraries and privacy, we have a broader role to play in defending access to information and the freedom to read. All of which makes it interesting to be in the profession these days, when those principles are so challenged.


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