TCS Daily

Libraries as Terrorist Sanctuaries

By Richard L. Cravatts - February 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Newton, Massachusetts, which this year was named as the country's safest town, can now add a second designation to its Chamber of Commerce brochures: it can boast of being a town that adamantly protects the privacy rights of would-be terrorists who wish to use its public library.

After a credible terror threat to Brandeis University (in neighboring Waltham, Mass.) was traced to a public computer at the Newton Free Library on January 18th, the FBI and local police, eager to prevent a deadly criminal act and hoping to apprehend the perpetrator, rushed to the Newton Free Library to secure the computer on which the threats had been sent, with the possibility of identifying the nature of the threat and the person behind it.

Several buildings at Brandeis had been cleared, including an adjacent Waltham elementary school. So law enforcement officials were eager to make speedy headway in identifying both the perpetrator and the threat's credibility, and had quickly moved to secure evidence at the Newton library.

What they had not anticipated, however, was that their search would be abruptly sidetracked when Kathy Glick-Weil, the library's director, informed them that no one was searching anything without a warrant from a judge -- this, despite the obvious urgency to act in an instance when a perpetrator was fleeing, time was passing, and a potentially catastrophic incident became more imminent by the minute.

Since the passing of the Patriot Act -- and its Section 215 which governs searching in libraries and bookstores - the American Library Association, of which Glick-Weil is a member, has been nearly apoplectic at the notion that government officials could have authority to monitor the reading and Internet surfing habits of library patrons.

But it is critical to realize that the ALA's sentiments, and Ms. Glick-Weil's personal decision to become a 'human shield' for 10 hours while the FBI waited to secure a warrant and seize the computer, are based on an incomplete and dangerously wrongheaded understanding of both Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the Constitution's Fourth Amendment rights.

The would-be terrorist who threatened Brandeis University from a computer in the Newton library, far from relying on an expectation of privacy and the "right to be left alone" while sending surreptitious emails from a public building, loses those constitutional protections once he conducts his informational transactions in public. As Heather MacDonald, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, recently testified before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,

"like it or not, once you've disclosed information to someone else, the Constitution no longer protects it. This diffuse-it-and-lose-it rule applies to library borrowing and Web surfing as well, however much librarians may claim otherwise. By publicly borrowing library books, patrons forfeit any constitutional protections they may have had in their reading habits."

The librarians point to what they fear will be an inevitable gutting of Fourth Amendment protections to library-goers, Internet surfers, and bookworms everywhere. But they minimize the necessity for changing responses to security threats in the post 9/11 era, and overlook the fact that publicly accessible computers in libraries do not and should not afford a cover of secrecy for terrorists.

These are not merely philosophical debates because the use of libraries by terror suspects has been well documented. Reports were received from Florida directly after September 11 from the Delray Beach Public Library, where reference librarian Kathleen Hensman claimed that Mohald Alshehri, listed as a hijack suspect, had used the library's computers. Similarly, library patrons in the Hollywood, Florida area, where five of the 9/11 suspects had stayed prior to the attacks, identified Mohammed Atta, another of the hijackers, as having used two of the area's libraries.

Despite these facts, the ALA's manual clearly suggests that librarians not only oppose the intent of the anti-terrorism laws but also help obstruct its enforcement as well. Section 52.4. of the ALA's policy manual reads. "Resist the issuance or enforcement of any such process, order, or subpoena until such time as a proper showing of good cause has been made in a court of competent jurisdiction."

Not content merely to make possible homeland security investigations as difficult as possible for the government, librarians nationwide have also taken to regularly destroying computer user lists, posting signs warning patrons of possible FBI surveillance and abuse, and turning off video cameras, as was done in Newton.

This credible bomb threat was very different than a case in which the crime has already occurred: there is a substantial difference between searching for evidence and suspects during the commission of a crime when the intention is to prevent the crime, on the one hand, and the more typical search for evidence after a criminal act has been committed, when law enforcement officials are not driven by the necessity of rapid response. That distinction, which could have been a life or death dimension in this case, clearly did not resonate with Newton officials. Nor, apparently, did the fact that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that if exceptions are "jealously and carefully drawn," and "the exigencies of the situation made that course imperative," searches during the commission of a crime or when evidence is in 'plain sight' do not violate Constitutional protections.

Our current debate over the Patriot Act, and legislation that came as a result of attacks on America, has focused predominantly on the potential for infringement of personal rights, said Paul Rosenzweig, Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. "But Americans should keep in mind," he says, "that the Constitution weighs heavily on both sides of the debate over national security and civil liberties." That means that even if library directors have taken what they perceive as a "sacred vow" to keep the government from knowing who has checked out one too many collections of Noam Chomsky essays, rights to privacy -- even if they were applicable in the library's public space -- have to be balanced with the reality that the protections we enjoy as law-abiding citizens under the Constitution can be snuffed out by those who exploit these guaranteed freedoms for their own murderous intent.

Richard L. Cravatts, a lecturer at Boston University, Tufts University, and Emerson College, writes frequently on religion, social policy, housing development, law, business, and politics.


Bathrooms as terrorist sanctuaries
Where does it end, this craven, belly-up willingness to have any and all government scrutiny not just excused by cheerled by more-anti-terrorist than thou surveillance shills? How about everyone has to wear clothing with prominent numbers at all times for positive i.d.? How about compulsory fingerprinting at random checkpoints? "Voluntary" surveillance of all communication, telephone, email, standard mail, and in-car or on-sidewalk communication? Let's go for it! That's the spirit that made America great.

Public Libraries
Which part of PUBLIC Library do you not understand. There is no expectation of privacy in any PUBLIC spaces, sidewalk, public park, PUBLIC LIBRARY, PUBLIC restroom. Your face and your actions are out there for all to see; me, your neigbors and yes big nasty scary government too.

The Feds
should have simply seized the d*mn computers and worried about the consequences later. It is a PUBLIC library, which part of PUBLIC do the librarians not understand. There is no right to provacy in a PUBLIC park, on a PUBLIC sudewalk, why should there be in a PUBLIC library.

Private life
And big nasty scary government got along just fine for centuries wihout snooping into the stacks for demon terrorists. But, sure, liet's line up to cower.

Public Libraries
No privacy in a public restroom?? So if all PUBLIC places are free-for-all zones then why can't I go to the White House and walk around as I please? I see your point steele, I see where you're going with it, but its a dead end. There are places in public where privacy is still afforded, libraries are one of them. If you want big government you should move to Europe.

What happened in Newton by the way? Did a big bomb go off and lots of people die?

How ironic, how hypocritical, that people whine about alarmism over environmental issues, but then ring the bell of alarmism loud and proud when it comes to terrorism. Wussies. Ideology sucks.

FBI determined there was no "credible threat"
This article frequently asserts the "credible threat" that was posed.

I noticed the following comment from the FBI spokesperson in a article posted at

"Gail Marcinkiewicz, Boston FBI spokeswoman, said yesterday that the bureau contends that the agents could have seized the computers without a warrant, under the legal theory that they were ''evidence of a crime in plain view."

But by the time a warrant became an issue, law enforcement officials had determined there was no imminent danger and decided to cooperate with Newton officials, Marcinkiewicz said. She said no arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon."

The FBI themselves is saying that they could've taken the computer anyways if they thought there was some imminent danger, but they did not.

In light of those facts, why go the route of panicing about terrorist havens in public libraries.

Oh... I remember now... "FEAR!!!!" is the #1 talking point of the right these days.

If you do not understand the meaning of the word PUBLIC then there is no point in discussing this.

By the way, the Whitehouse is not a public space. That is a nonsensical argument. It is public property but it is not a public space any more than Ft. Benning is a public space. There is a difference between public ownership and public spaces.

I find big government abhorrent. But what goes on in the privacy of my home and what goes on the public park are different things.

Tough for Traitor Bush
The only legitimate purpose of any government policy is to proptect the rights and freedoms of Americans. Any policy destructive of those ends is illegitimate.

The librarian in this case, is to be highly commended for resisting the FBI.

The greatest threat always lies with government. Governments have murdered tens of millions in the last century, whereas terrorists have murdered tens of thousands. The greatest threat is government. See "Death by Government"

If we really want to stop terrorism we'll withdraw our forces from the Middle East.

Here is a time line of terrorist attacks upon Americans, American interests and the U.S. mainland -- Please note that were no Arab, Palestinian or Islamic attacks upon specifically U.S. targets until after the '82 landing of U.S. troops in Beruit. Additionally, most of the Americans kidnapped in Lebanon in the '80s were released after Israel withdrew from that country in '91. This is very strong evidence that it was U.S. military presence in the region that inspired Arab/Islamic/Palestinian terrorism directed at U.S. targets, rather than anything else. Please note that the U.S. has supported Israel for years before being subject to Arab/Islamic/Palestinian terrorist attacks. So if it was just that they "hate" us, they would have had good reason to hit us way before they did. But there were no Arab/Islamic/Palestinian terrorist attacks against U.S. targets until after there were U.S. boots on the ground in the region.

Ayn Rand once said not to bother examining a folly, just look at what it accomplishes. Let's look at what our foreign and defense policy has accomplished -- library surviellance, the deaths of 5000 of our people since 2000, searches and patdowns in order to board flights, expanded federal police & snooping powers, torture, etc.

The longer I observe the so-called "War on Terror" the more I am convinced that daddy Bush, his boy George, and his conservative cronies intended it this way. They knew damned well the tactics of the Arabs/Palestinians/Islamists. They knew damned well there was a virtual certainty of terrorist attacks upon the U.S. if we became militarily involved over there. This gave them pretext to institute all of the repressive, socialistic, fascistic measures for which they yearned.

Daddy Bush is a traitor and so is his boy George. They knew damned well what they were doing and the likely results. They're both traitors to freedom and traitors to America.

What part of LIMITED government do you not understand?
If anyone followed you around taking uypur picture, you could sue them for harrassment. If someone went to a store or library asking for your personal transaction information, whoever disclosed it could be sued or prosecuted for divulging private information.

The same should be true of government. But one has even more rights against government than against a private investigator. Government is dangerous and should be further restricted.

Those who would sacrifice essential freedom for security, deserve neither.

They must all be traitors
Bruce13 seems to have forgotten the rest of his list of traitors. Surely it must have included all the senators and congressman who have voted to approve and fund such activities. Not to forget the Supreme court and their traitorous refusal to stop the executive and legislative branches from openly commiting treason. Even worse is the more than fifty percent of the American voters who continually returned Republican presidential, senate and congressional candidates. Charge them all!!

And don't get him started on that traitor Clinton who had no more legal basis for his war efforts in the Balkans and the middle east than Pres. Bush but with a lot less justification and even less effectiveness.

Perhaps Bruce13 should direct his comments to the Danes and Norwegians and explain to them that it's all about their war mongering and imperialism by the traitors who lead them.

Hint.. before talking to the Danes and Norwegians make sure that you can explain France. French Pres. Chirac said that France would use nukes(!!!) against any country that threatened its security interests through terrorism just before the cartoon incident. After the cartoon incident dozens of French newspapers printed the cartoons even though they knew there were protests going on all through the muslim world. Even so the governments of Syria, Lebanon and Iran chose to protect the French embassy and not those of the militarily miniscule, totally innocuous scandinavian countries.


Ayn Rand
If you're going to cite Ayn Rand, check out "". Their stand is that Bush is being far too gentle.

That the word "Public" is in the library's name does not mean that it is ownerless or that it is owned by the U.S. government. Presumably, it is owned by the city or some local non-profit. The owners set the terms of use, and decide whether or not to protect their patrons. The owners must decide (as must everybody) whether to accede to the demands of law enforcement officials and whether the officials' claims of acting in accordance with the law are true. That the librarian blundered in this case does not make the principle wrong.
As a side note, I am quite disturbed that the feds seem always to want to seize computers when they could be examined on site. This abuse of power hurts the computer's owner and serves no purpose beyond intimidation.

living in the past
Centuries ago, the stacks contained books. Today, libraries contain not only books but Internet connected computers which can assist in the facilitation of a crime in a way that books cannot. Books transmit knowledge but computers are tools that can transmit information and alter the activity of machinery.

Once libraries cease to be just about information storage and perusal, they rightfully come under different rules.

It's not a matter of big/small government
Under any reasonable definition of minarchy, the smallest of small government advocacies, government would still have the duty to investigate threats of violence like bomb threats. The search is not illegitimate and not a big government intrusion. A crime had been committed (sending a bomb threat itself is a crime) and chasing down the perpetrator before the trail grew cold is a legitimate state interest.

The only question is whether a hot pursuit of something as slippery and ephemeral as an ip trail can be stopped by the purposeful obstruction of the ALA. In a sane world, voluntary cooperation would have chopped off several hours of wait for paperwork while the warrant was prepared. But the ALA isn't interested in common sense or sanity. They don't like the idea that public libraries are subject to searches at all.

Think for a minute about the circumstances. Was there any doubt that there would be a warrant issued? Was there any doubt that the only accomplishment that could be achieved by delay was the trail growing cold and evidence being overwritten? The risk::benefit ratio is unhealthily skewed.

Public, as defined by Cravatts
Per Cravatts, it would seem the Internet, the phones and the mail are "public spaces". Possibly even your own home.

From the article:
"like it or not, once you've disclosed information to someone else, the Constitution no longer protects it."

This is doubly misleading, given that privacy isn't in the American Constitution in the first place. Not natively or "pre-penumbra", at least.

I suppose "public space" is going to mean whatever the government wants it to. "Interstate commerce" means feeding your own animals what you've grown on your own farm. "Public interest" means government can take your property, give you less (or more) than its worth, never do (or intend to do) with it what they say they intend, lose big money for their community on it, and still qualify.

It's not so much the loss of privacy I mind; it's the lack of accountability. These are the guys that sell our info to spammers and pass laws to protect spammers from the rest of us, and they're saying trust us; it's best to have government decide when to snoop on us, what safeguards to have, whether the results of the snooping have been abused, and what recompense to make.
And by the way, we have a sale on earmarks.

We know they're going to abuse their privileges and evade their responsibilities and that the political result of the eventual public reaction will give us a bureaucracy that is nearly non-functional as far as results go, and we'll end up with bigger, more-useless government. Again. "Limited" government, riiight.

Incidentally, can someone explain both ends of this quote: "10 hours while the FBI waited to secure a warrant and seize the computer"? 10 hours, when I would expect any competent federal agency that routinely seeks warrants to have someone competent on call to decide if a warrant is justified. Seize the computer, when any ... can figure out how to use point-and-click drive image copying software.

Why obstruct the FBI?
I do not understand this mass resistance to law enforcement / law enforcement agencies.

When I was in Highschool, there were a couple of times that the school constible had asked to check my locker (there was a rumor that some people were selling illicit substances from their lockers so the constable was systematically searching the lockers), several people resisted, and complained..."Its an invasion of privacy" I didn't care, I had nothing to hide (well except for a rather old sandwhich forgetten over a spring break) so I submitted to the search. Whats the big deal, unless you have something to hide, besides, if your posesions have been searched, it clears your name if nothing is found.

Why would the librarian resist the computer search, unless she had something to hide?

From Canada;

"unless you have something to hide"
The Bill of Rights gives people rights whether or not they have something to hide. It put limits on the ability of government to act against inviduals. It protects the guilty as well as the innocent. And that's what it's supposed to do, because the alternative --seen over and over again -- is goverment abuse. The fifth amendment forbidding people from being made to testify against themselves, is the classic illustration. You can ask, "why do you need a fifth amendment if you have nothing to hide?" Ask the question of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founders.

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