December 17, 2005
Big Brother is Watching YOU!

Do you think you’re safe from the Homeland Security Goons because you aren’t Muslim? Think again. Reading can be dangerous these days.

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.” Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program. The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said. The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a “watch list,” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

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Posted by Buck Batard at December 17, 2005 10:01 PM
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I am a librarian. If this story is true, I am very concerned about how the Dept. of Homeland Security obtained a library patronís records. It is a violation of principle III of the American Library Association Code of Ethics to provide a library patron's records to anyone without the patron's consent. If the story is true, I would like to see the American Library Association take disciplinary action against librarians responsible for the release of these records.

Posted by: Jeff on December 18, 2005 12:44 AM

The source is a proper newspaper, as far as I can tell. There are lots of names and titles to check, and for the librarian's role, you have the name of the library.

Any professional group contains some cravenly embarrassing members, but I don't blame you for trying to uphold the sterling reputation librarians have achieved in recent years.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on December 18, 2005 9:21 AM

I checked with my favorite radical militant librarian (who also writes great crime fiction). She says:

"This is amazing, if true. It's also pretty nearly impossible to verify since
if served with an NSL the library has a permanent gag order - they can't
confirm, deny, or even say "NSLs suck because when we were served with
one..."

"I'm a little dubious about this story, though. The reporter couldn't confirm
with anyone other than a third party (the prof). The library doesn't ask for
SS numbers. (I checked their interlibrary loan form online since it seemed
so bizarre. Nope.) And the agents were reportedly from Homeland Security.
The feebs are the ones who have the power to issue NSLs. I suppose a student
or clerk could have tipped them off through some silly hotline thingy, but I
have a hard time imagining a librarian reporting this because it's a)
ludicrous to think reading the little red book would have the slightest
thing to do with terrorism and they probably see things that are a lot more
likely than this being requested and b) no academic library in the country
operates without a policy to protect privacy; in fact most states have laws
against letting anyone know who has requested or checked something out. And
say what you will about us "radical militant librarians" as an FBI memo
labeled us in a NY Times story earlier this month (it's great - we're going
to make T-shirts) but we do tend to stick to policy.

"But it could be the best excuse to come along in a while: "The Department of
Homeland Security ate my homework."

"I'm going to forward it to a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Ed and see
what he thinks / digs up. Sounds iffy to me. At least I certainly hope so."

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on December 18, 2005 1:14 PM
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