The United States PATRIOT Act has become a hub of debate in both the local and national news as it awaits contestation in a secret U.S. court that is responsible for providing confidential search warrants to the Justice department.
The PATRIOT Act- or United Strengthening of America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism – is a piece of legislation that was drafted by the Justice department and introduced to the House of Representatives on October twenty-third 2001, was passed in the house the following day, then through the senate the next day, and was signed into law the day after that.
In national news: the Patriot Act has become a source of argumentation due to claims brought forth by an anonymous plaintiff from Connecticut who alleges that a provision of the PATRIOT Act has violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiff filed suit against the federal government on August ninth, claiming that the “gag order” provision of the Act violated their first amendment right to freedom of speech.
The gag order requires complete confidentiality of the government’s actions when seeking the records of citizens in the United States. Citizens who are demanded by the government to provide records of suspected individuals are unable to speak about the government’s actions. The plaintiff brought the suit to a district court and won the case, but no verdict was passed by the judge because the U.S. government would have inevitably appealed the case, which they did.
Numerous librarians around the nation have joined into the fray and are outraged at certain sections of the Act that require institutions in the United States to allow the government to obtain any records of affiliates with that institution. UVM’s own librarians have become vocal on this issue and are seeking to eradicate the PATRIOT Act.
Trina Magi, an Assistant Professor of the Bailey Howe Library, cites section 215 of the Act as invading the privacy of the UVM students who use the library. Under the said section, the FBI can “require the production of any tangible things,” meaning that librarians are required to provide the FBI with any records of student activities in Bailey Howe.
Magi also cited section 216 of the act as being a violation of privacy rights, for that section allows the FBI to track phone calls and internet activity.
Magi spoke of section 505 of the Act as being particularly invasive, for it allows the FBI to obtain any search warrants that are needed to get student records and it can do this without the authorization of a U.S. court.
Magi and other librarians have argued that the Act is in violation of the Library Association Code of Ethics, which requires librarians to keep all information about library patrons confidential. For this reason the librarians sent a letter to Bernie Sander’s, who agreed with the plight of the librarians and attempted to pass the “Freedom to Read Protection Act” last March.
In the state of Vermont, citizens are protected by statutes that claim all library records to be exempt from inspection. Librarians at Bailey Howe have begun to purge their records so that if the government demands them to forfeit information about students, the library will not have any records available to give.
The PATRIOT Act is still in effect even though a district court has ruled it to be unconstitutional. The Justice Department stated last Friday that for the Act to be struck down it must be appealed before a secret U.S. court that was created in 1978. The court is responsible for issuing confidential search warrants in matters of national security. It has also been stated by the Justice Department that only federal attorneys and agents are allowed to enter the court, so any chance of an appeal is unlikely