Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Sky Is Falling!

Remember Leupp the Dupe? He is the college professor who freaked out and started screeching to the press like Chicken Little when a college kid claimed that he was being questioned by government agents because he had used the school's interlibrary loan to order Mao's Little Red Book.

Seems like the kids were pulling Leupp's leg.

It turns out that the FBI has explained the rules right on their site.

Question: Can the FBI look at your library records any time they want?

Answer: No, they cannot. Access to library records is strictly governed by law.

A person's library records may be subpoenaed by a federal grand jury for a specific case. Special Agents of the FBI are also able to obtain records with a criminal search warrant in the course of an investigation. Now, under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001 (which does not single out library records, but applies to "books, records, papers, documents, and other items" from any source), the FBI may be granted authorization by the federal FISA court to access records in an investigation specific to international terrorism or foreign intelligence. In this last case, the FBI must certify to a judge that these records are sought "for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a U.S. person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution." In any investigation, of course, including those in which Section 215 is invoked, it is important to maintain secrecy both to protect the integrity of the case and to protect the reputation of the individual being investigated, in the event no charges are brought.

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