Act are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.”18

An example of the library community’s view of the dangers appears in the writing of a Washington state librarian who refused an FBI request for circulation records associated with a biography of Osama bin Laden and wrote about the USA PATRIOT Act’s implications for her profession (Box 8.4). The ALA also has urged librarians to review the records that they currently keep to ensure that they maintain only those that are absolutely needed, and that all other information about patrons is purged as soon as possible.

It should be noted that the phenomenon of law enforcement personnel or agencies looking to libraries for information about particular people and their reading (or Web-surfing) habits is certainly not new.19 Indeed, during the 1980s, there was widespread concern within the library community regarding the FBI’s Library Awareness program (part of a foreign counterintelligence program that sought to discover what was interesting to people from Eastern Europe when they visited premier university research libraries). In the 1950s, the library community was sometimes approached in attempts to find evidence of communist sympathy. At those times, as now, the library community held to its commitment to privacy in the face of pressures in the name of security.


As mentioned in the discussion of technology drivers (Chapter 3), advances in technology have often led to new concerns about the impact of those advances on privacy. Emerging technologies that affect library operations such as digital rights management technologies (DRMTs) and RFID tags are timely illustrations and are already topics of controversy.

Consider, for example, DRMTs, whose overall goal is to ensure that digital content is not copied and distributed without the knowledge and consent of the providers of that content. Some proposals for such technologies envision enabling content providers to trace every use of every copy, including not only who the purchaser might be but also who is actually viewing the content. If such technologies become widely used in connection with the digital content held by libraries, the difficulty of ensuring the privacy of patrons who view such content will increase. If every viewing is subject to the content provider’s being able to learn the


American Library Association, “USA PATRIOT Act and Intellectual Freedom,” available at, accessed June 14, 2006.


Much of this story is told, from the perspective of the library community, at

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