Any activists here who feel that information is a RIGHT and not a prevlidge stand up and be counted! This is the second article in two weeks I've read about how the gov't is watching over libraries and bookstores. They want records of what people bought so "they know" what you're learning.
Library restrictions borrow from colonial-era abuses
Wed Mar 5, 8:04 AM ET Add Op/Ed - USA TODAY to My Yahoo!
In colonial America, British officials routinely suppressed newspapers and censored books. Troops barged into homes and seized suspicious materials. Their justification: preserving law and order (news - Y! TV).
In a reverberation 250 years later, the U.S. government claims the right to impose electronic censorship on libraries and secretly seize library and bookstore records of what citizens read. The actions also are defended on legal grounds: shielding children from pornography on the Internet and protecting the public from terrorists.
Both goals certainly are desirable. Yet the way Congress and the Bush administration are pursuing them puts at risk hard-fought liberties basic to U.S. identity. Consider:
* Filtering the Internet. Though the Supreme Court shot down similar efforts in 1997 and 2002, Congress is trying a third time to force libraries to install software aimed at blocking access to Web sites with sexually explicit content. The court hears arguments today in an appeal of a unanimous lower-court ruling that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
The filtering requirement is supposed to protect children. But it also would restrict Internet access for adults who use library computers. And the available filters are so flawed, they would pose an even greater First Amendment problem by blocking beneficial sites. For example, a study in December by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that anti-smut filters screened out up to 24% of health-information sites, on topics such as diabetes, depression, birth control and even the government's own advice on treating sexually transmitted diseases.
* Spying on readers. FBI agents currently are going into libraries and bookstores to demand records of materials that individuals borrowed or bought. The source of their new authority is the USA Patriot Act, which Congress rushed through in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
In an effort to ease the tracking of potential terrorists, it also lifts valuable restraints that had protected law-abiding citizens from government snooping.
For example, authorities no longer have to show evidence to a judge that the target of their search is a foreign agent or suspected terrorist. Nor do they have to show a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, much less the ''probable cause'' required by the Fourth Amendment. Judges have little discretion to block fishing expeditions. What's more, libraries and bookstores are prohibited from disclosing the searches to anyone, which deprives innocent citizens of the right to challenge illegitimate inquiries.
Advocates of Internet filters say the restriction is a necessary price to protect kids from pornography. Yet strict parental control provides a better way to shield children without trampling everyone's rights. And while the government says it needs expanded authority to track terrorists, oversight by courts would give the government adequate leeway to do its job while guarding against the illegal domestic spying and other improper uses of FBI powers that cloud the agency's history.
At least 50 city councils, from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Carrboro, N.C., have passed resolutions protesting these assaults on civil liberties. Such actions demonstrate that the freedoms won more than two centuries ago still are worth defending.
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