It’s OK to seize library records, Herger says

Does the USA Patriot Act go too far when it allows the FBI to seize library and bookstore records to find out what patrons are reading?

Members of the Chico Bill of Rights Defense Committee think it does. Last Saturday, they met with Congressman Wally Herger, presented him with petition signatures for the so-called “Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003” and discussed the implications of the Patriot Act.

The petition asks Herger to co-sponsor House Resolution 1157, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act exempting bookstores and libraries from having to give the FBI their patron records.

B.O.R.D.C. members said it wasn’t necessary to bypass Fourth Amendment protections in tracking potential terrorists. “Bookstores and libraries don’t need the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to issue warrants,” Readmore Books manager and Chico State student Jeff Lords commented. “If there are going to be warrants issued, it would be much better if they went through a civilian court.”

Chico State student and Chico B.O.R.D.C. Public Relations Director Katherine Zimmerman stated her concerns about the possibility of innocent individuals being suspected and possibly detained as a result of the monitoring. “It seems that the people who are going to be caught up in this are the people who probably have honest intentions and are using these books for what they are intended to be used for,” she told the congressman.

Though he expressed his agreement with some of the committee’s concerns, Herger remained staunch in his opposition to HR 1157. “I would hate to be a co-sponsor of this [resolution] and have it pass and [find out later] that the next terrorist went to the libraries and got the way to make a bomb.”

B.O.R.D.C. members drew analogies between the restrictions on freedom brought by the Patriot Act and historical actions such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous witch hunt for supposed Communists in government.

Herger agreed that these restrictions that occurred during times of war “went too far” but contended that authorizing the perusal of bookstore and library records was necessary in light of the current state of the world. “We’re in a whole new era today,” Herger said, “where the targets are innocent people.”

The congressman made his own historical references, comparing the members of the B.O.R.D.C. to figures such British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who, before the Second World War, infamously “appeased” Adolf Hitler by allowing him to annex Czechoslovakia, aiding the German rise to power.

Continuing his defense of the Patriot Act, Herger emphasized that the terrorist threat isn’t only from international groups such as al-Qaeda. Citing the recent anthrax and ricin mailings and the Oklahoma City bombing, Herger said domestic terrorists were equally threatening to our national security and needed to be monitored.

Herger told the group he would "keep an open mind" about H.R. 1157, but unless new information comes along to change his opinion, he will "err on the side of caution" in regard to potential terrorist threats and not be a co-sponsor.