Friday, February 17, 2006
The USA PATRIOT Act: is Big Brother in Carlisle?
The USA PATRIOT Act and secret surveillance have been in the news lately. What, if any, are the effects of this federal legislation in Carlisle?
Most sections of the law enjoyed bipartisan support and were made permanent when the law was created in October of 2001. However 16 of the more controversial provisions were given expiration clauses set to end last December. Congress voted extensions until March 10 to enable further debate on modifications. Also relating to secret surveillance, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the legality of President Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) program to monitor international phone calls and e-mails without warrants.
Have any secret searches been made in Carlisle under provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act? Madonna McKenzie, town administrator for Carlisle, expects to report at Annual Town Meeting that, "there has been no activity" in town during the past year. However, it would be difficult to learn details if there had been any investigations. McKenzie admits she is "between a rock and a hard place," because inherent in the Act are restrictions forbidding employees who deal with these inquiries from speaking about them to anyone. She also says she might not be aware that other employees in Town Hall aided investigators if they had been prohibited from telling her.
In early 2004, the private Carlisle Civil Liberties Committee (CCLC) was formed in response to the USA PATRIOT Act. The group held public forums and drafted a resolution in response to the Act (see Mosquito, April 9, 2004). The resolution, adopted by Carlisle at Annual Town Meeting on May 3, 2004, urged state and federal elected representatives "to monitor the implementation of the Act and related executive orders, and to actively work for the repeal of those portions of the Act that violate civil liberties as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the rights to freedom of speech and assembly, due process of law, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, whether such searches and seizures take place in homes, libraries, schools, or elsewhere, and the right to counsel and to confront accusers."
The town administrator was instructed, "to the extent legally permissible, to report annually to the Town Meeting any information in the Town's possession about the manner in which the USA PATRIOT Act is being implemented in the Town, such as by disclosing the names and whereabouts of any Town resident(s) detained pursuant to the Act."
Across Massachusetts, similar resolutions have been voted in 53 cities and towns, and nationwide 402 local and state resolutions have been passed.
State Representative Cory Atkins, sponsor of a Massachusetts resolution, said the proposal has been through the committees and now awaits arrival on the House floor for a vote. Massachusetts, along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island, join over a dozen other states nationwide considering statewide resolutions. Maine and Vermont are among seven states that have already voted similar resolutions into place, according to information at www.bordc.org, the web site of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Many views on civil liberties
The CCLC has not met regularly since 2004. However, Susan Stamps, an attorney and head of the group, continues to follow the debate on the USA PATRIOT Act in Washington. Stamps worries about a future where, "One day you wake up and you have a government that has absolute power, working for itself and its supporters and not the people. This is the kind of thing the founders warned us about."
Proponents counter that the USA PATRIOT Act was needed to update existing surveillance laws, and that broad surveillance powers are required for an agile and effective response in the war on terrorism.
As Concord-Carlisle Regional High School teacher Denis Cleary explained, during CCLC's 2004 public forum, American civil liberties have been temporarily curtailed during many past wars. Examples include the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln's repeal of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.Civil liberties have been restored after the crisis has ended, and Cleary felt that "our system should provide checks."
free information exhange
The American Library Association (ALA) has laid out a resolution opposing "any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals in exercising free inquiry...." In 2003, the Massachusetts Library Association voted to endorse the ALA Resolution. Recently, the head librarian in Newton, Mass. made the news when she refused to allow the FBI to seize computers without first obtaining a warrant.The FBI was investigating a threat made against Brandeis University that allegedly originated from one of the Newton library computers. By the time the warrant was in hand, several hours had elapsed and the threat had been resolved.
Privacy protection at Gleason
Angela Redden Mollet, director of the Gleason Public Library for the last two and a half years, says she is very much aware of the USA PATRIOT Act in her position with the library. Having attended discussions on the topic, she considers the Act to be "an unnecessary layer" in protecting the American people from dangerous activity. "The most frustrating thing about the USA PATRIOT Act for librarians" she says, "is that we already have a close relationship with the police department. If something suspicious were to come up, we would already feel comfortable contacting them about it."
In order to both follow the law and protect the rights of citizens, the Gleason Library has maintained a policy of holding personal information only as long as necessary for business. No paper records are kept and the computers are set on auto-clean. This enables them to constantly refresh their memory, erasing information once it is no longer necessary. All statistical records are free of identifiable information. A scan of a patron's library card shows only current items out on loan, or items that may have a fine attached.
Mollet reports that the library has not had any kind of higher-level investigation in the last two and a half years. If they had, the answer would have had to have been, "I can't tell you." She says, "Above all, the goal of the library is to provide the best service to people, protecting their rights so they can make use of the library without feeling threatened or intimidated."
When asked if the Act had added to their routine paperwork or requirements for saving documents, both McKenzie and Town Clerk Charlene Hinton said it had not. Hinton noted the state already had a comprehensive Public Records Law that specifies handling of everything from licenses to meeting minutes to employee e-mails.
In summary, the USA PATRIOT Act has not had a conspicuous local impact. Within the limitations imposed by the law, the library seeks to protect Carlisle residents' privacy and access to information.
© 2006 The