Published on Thursday, December 19, 2002 by Wired News
Patriot Act Revolt
Cities Say No to Federal Snooping
by Julia Scheeres
Fearing that the Patriot Act will curtail Americans' civil rights, municipalities across the country are passing resolutions to repudiate the legislation and protect their residents from a perceived abuse of authority by the federal government.
On Tuesday, Oakland became the 20th municipality to pass a resolution barring its employees -- from police officer to librarian -- from collaborating with federal officials who may try to use their new power to investigate city residents.
Rushed through Congress a month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Patriot Act fundamentally changes Americans' legal rights. Among other things, the act allows the government to secretly monitor political groups, seize library records and tap phone and Internet connections.
The federal government says the expanded powers are needed to prevent terrorist attacks; but critics say the legislation erodes freedoms protected by the Constitution. The Justice Department did not return calls for comment on this article.
A rallying point behind the recent groundswell has been the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, run by Massachusetts activist Nancy Talanian.
Her site includes a blueprint for communities that want to pass anti-Patriot Act resolutions, based on her successful lobbying efforts for such legislation in Northhampton, Massachusetts. The site has gotten over a million hits in the last six months, Talanian said.
Another group to vehemently oppose the act has been librarians. They are now required to divulge patrons' book-borrowing and Internet-surfing habits to federal investigators and are prohibited from making such requests public.
In retaliation, some librarians have called special meetings to educate their communities about the Patriot Act's implications. Others now routinely purge borrowing records and Internet caches. One former librarian devised a series of technically-legal signs to warn patrons of FBI snooping.
"We're Sorry!" states one. "Due to National Security concerns, we are unable to tell you if your Internet surfing habits, passwords and e-mail content are being monitored by federal agents; please act appropriately."
Jessamyn West said she doesn't necessarily expect libraries to use her signs, but she hopes that they'll get people talking.
"Hopefully, they'll make people more aware of what's going on," she said.
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