at The Evergreen State College

National security and bibliographic management

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Bibliographic Management in PATRIOT ACT America

Section 215 of The US PATRIOT ACT states that information as to the books checked out, sources used, bibilographic material must be turned over to the FBI in case of threats or suspicion of terrorism. In light of these developments, libraries and the people that utilize them are at constant risk of survailance. Any time a website is accessed from a computer at a public or academic library the FBI can request the search record and implicate the user in a crime. There has been a major pushback from librarians. As the gatekeepers of information, librarians are disinterested in hindering peoples learning, but fears of governement intervention have made everyone more cautious. Clearing cookies, caches, and search histories are strategies some librarians have used, but that is not nearly enough to secure the computers and safeguard the patrons. Bibliographic Managers, by nature keep track of the websites and sources a person has looked at. Since one can access all the sources a person has ever looked at through their accounts, there are safeguards people can use to at least make the jobs of the feds more difficult.

Ways to Safeguard Research

The Free Expression Policy Project is a multi-organization thinktank expressly dedicated to insuring the freedoms of information and expression this country was founded on. The project was founded in 2000, but picked up steam post 9/11 when restrictions on information and freedoms seemed to pass unilaterally in the name of National Security. Their aims, while not entirely related to bibliographic management, are to protect the kinds of "dangerous" ideas that drive people to libraries in the first place.

From the Free Expression Policy Project's Website :

FEPP's primary areas of inquiry are:

  • Restrictions on publicly funded expression - in libraries, museums, schools, universities, and arts and humanities agencies;
  • Internet filters, rating systems, and other measures that restrict access to information and ideas in the digital age;
  • Restrictive copyright laws, digital rights management, and other imbalances in the intellectual property system;
  • Mass media consolidation, public access to the airwaves, and other issues of media democracy;
  • Censorship designed to shield adolescents and children from controversial art, information, and ideas.
FEPP takes a non-absolutist approach to free expression. For example, sexual and racial harassment, threats, and false advertising are types of speech that do not, and should not, have First Amendment protection. But a painting or photograph with sexual content is not sexual harassment; and a work of literature or scholarship is unlikely to constitute a threat. Speech may be offensive or controversial - but that is generally all the more reason to protect it. Unprotected speech should be narrowly and specifically defined, and have a direct, tangible, demonstrably harmful effect.

While this project is vastly important to the educational system, the aspect that closely relates to safeguarding research is the idea that a work a of literature or scholarship is unlikely to constitute a threat. In order for true innovative ideas to come to fruition people need to be able to do important work and not fear repercussions. Canadian universities that were using RefWorks, a company that hosts their website on servers in both Canada and the United States, requested their information be held on Canadian servers to avoid U.S. government intrusion into academic research.

Until the PATRIOT ACT is repealed, there isn't much people can do to protect themselves from the government spying on their work. Either people can not do any sort of research that might strike overzealous agents as suspicious, or brave people can do important work and possibly face the consequences.

Works Cited