George Christian, executive director of Library Connection, a consortium of 27 libraries in the Hartford, Conn., area, has, since 2005, been fighting a National Security letter request from the FBI for subscription information on patrons of the library system. Because of the way the PATRIOT Act is written, he was only recently, through a court order, un-gagged to be able to testify before Congress about the experience.
Said Christian, “Terrorists win when the fear of them induces us to destroy the rights that make us free.” Christian said his experience “should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution” about the strain that the government’s pursuit of would-be terrorists puts on civil liberties. He said the government uses the USA Patriot Act and other laws to learn, without proper judicial oversight or any after-the-fact review, what citizens are researching in libraries.
A recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found 48 violations of law or rules in the FBI’s use of national security letters from 2003 through 2005. Some congressional critics want to tighten legal safeguards on the letters.
” ‘Trust us’ doesn’t cut it when it comes to the government’s power to obtain Americans’ sensitive business records without a court order and without any suspicion that they are tied to terrorism or espionage,” said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights.
Now the Bush administration wants even more power to secretly spy on Americans who have done nothing wrong, further destroying American liberty. This administration tells us that “terrorists hate our freedom.” Yet, it seems that this administration hates our freedom even more, for it’s hell bent on destroying it. Do we have to destroy freedom to save it from terrorists?
The truth is that U.S. government agencies had all the information they needed to detect and stop the September 11, 2001, attacks. That they failed to do so is not because they didn’t have the power to spy on ordinary Americans without warrants or reason that the administration demanded and received and now wants more of.
You should urge Congress to pass the Read the Bills Act, which would prevent Congress from passing bills it hasn’t actually read, the way the Patriot Act was passed.