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February 21, 2003

American heroes: Those would be bookseller Michael Katzenberg and the other staff of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, who will purge customer purchasing records on request. Why? Well, as the CNN story reminds us:
The Patriot Act approved after the 2001 terrorist attacks allows government agents to seek court orders to seize records “for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Such court orders cannot be challenged like a traditional subpoena. In fact, bookstores and libraries are barred from telling anyone if they get one. [Emphasis added.]

Of course, no one in government would never actually use these powers inappropriately. We know this, why, because they say so:
U.S. Attorney Peter Hall played down concern that government agents might soon be darkening the door at Vermont bookstores and libraries.

“Only in very rare and limited and supervised circumstances would anyone be seeking that sort of business information from a bookseller, a library or a business of any sort,” Hall said.

If you find these promises less than reassuring, you might want to consider giving some of your own bookbuying business to Bear Pond Books. Predictably, right now their web server is being overwhelmed by traffic generated by the CNN story, but I phoned and a staff member confirmed that yes, they do sell books on their web page, so please keep trying! (Alternately, I’ll bet they’d be happy to take an order or two over the phone; it’s 802-229-0774.) “A lot of people around here are very concerned about this,” said the staffer. Good to know.

[CNN story via Nathan Newman, whose weblog I sometimes have to restrain myself from quoting wholesale. Check out this and this while you’re at it.] [10:30 AM]

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Comments on American heroes::

Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 11:24 AM:

Amen, brother! Last Christmas, I bought Andy Rooney's book as a gift for me father. I caught myself thinking, this will confuse the bastards monitoring my spending habits, or at least earn me some brownie points.

What kind of country is it when a citizen can seriously have those kinds of thought?

Charles Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 02:50 PM:

The same provisions apply to public library records as well --- including the fairly toxic provision that no one is allowed to disclose any request for a search.

My strategy in dealing with all this: pay cash. But I'm not exactly thrilled with it...

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 04:41 PM:

Yes, there is cash. Assuming you're in physical reach of an appropriate store. But that's such a primitive form of economic exchange. Brrr.

More seriously, a lot of public librarians are prepared to go to jail before they disclose borrowing records. Regular purging of such data has always been a part of library procedure, and it's even more stringently followed now, in many places. Ask your local library what their policy is.

Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 05:32 PM:

Libraries have been shifting to systems that don't even retain borrower information, once the borrowed items are returned. The only thing the snoops can find out is what you currently have checked out; there's no way to establish a pattern, even if the library loses the fight and has to hand over what they do have.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 05:51 PM:

I didn't know that development, Lis. (It's been a while since I was toiling away in a public library.) And as long as the staff is careful to check for damage to the book when it's returned (instead of waiting for the next borrower to discover it), the library has no need to keep last-borrower information.

Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 08:05 PM:

I make a habit of paying cash for books purchased at any of the local bookshops, because then the merchant doesn't have to pay transaction fees to the credit-card company. Since many of these places are running on razor-thin margins, especially with the recession, it does make a difference. (The Other Change of Hobbit was having trouble making rent, late last year -- act now! act without hesitation! buy lots of books from them!)

Leaving no record is a nice fringe benefit.

Jon ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 10:43 PM:

We had a meeting at our university library yesterday about the Patriot Act (combined with a general meeting on security). Big mess at this point, since a lot of the new powers are untested as far as could be told. The university's lawyers are taking the wait-and-see and approach, and the library's policy is currently to make them present a warrant, court order or no.

And in the meantime, we're also in the process of purging former student employee files, just in case. A lot of them are foreign students, y'know, from dangerous parts of the world. Such as the Caribbean. We actually had to fire a couple foreign student employees because they weren't taking classes this semester. It had never been a problem before.

I think the only people this really going to benefit are the lawyers. Again.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 02:31 PM:

A teeny negative comment...the link given in the text doesn't work, at least through the UO library proxy.

[spam deleted] ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:57 PM:

[posted from]