Don’t look now …

There are many reasons to like the fact that the paper you hold in your hands is free. Beyond the, ahem, obvious value to you, there is no way the government can track your identity through a subscription list. We hope there is occasionally some seditious content to read, and we’d hate to think that the man over there, the one behind you, was tracking such things.

Think it’s silly, don’t you? Well, it’s not.

Section 215 of the wrongly named Patriot Act gives the government expansive powers to do broad searches of any business. Now, here is the scary part: The government agents simply have to say it has something to do with an investigation of terrorism. There is no judge to weigh the evidence because the government doesn’t have to present any evidence to get a warrant. You simply have to trust government agents.

If we happened to be a subscription paper, and we put out a message of strong support of a visiting speaker with ties to, say, radical Muslims, a scenario could play out in which the agents took the lists and started investigating subscribers. The investigation would strike fear into the hearts of supporters who have a First Amendment right to listen to the speaker. This palpable fear is being felt by Muslims here in Sacramento. (See “One nation, under surveillance.)

This very same provision of the Patriot Act also gives the government powers to abuse the First Amendment rights of bookstore patrons and library-card holders. Egad, it is enough to make James Madison and Thomas Jefferson roll over twice in their graves.

But now, someone has taken the front lines in this important battle about government intrusions, and it’s not someone who usually poses as a street fighter for the Bill of Rights. It’s your librarian.

That person, not the current crop of elected politicians, embodies the very image of a patriot: a person fighting for freedom.