Snippets #42, Sunday, 19.Oct.2003 (ISSN 1530-9622)
_______________S N I P P e T S
_________________________from James S. Huggins' Refrigerator Door
___________________________________#42, Sunday, 19.Oct.2003
_____1. Patriot Act
_____2. Throwing Away Data
_____3. Fixing the Patriot Act
_____4. Free ebook
__________1. Patriot Act
I devote a couple of items in this issue to the Patriot Act. Those who know me well know that I've followed this since it was introduced and haven't liked it from day 1. It is one of those hot-button issues for me. That, and having to be searched in order to get onto an airplane.
I'm troubled by what seems to be our piecemeal approach to problems.
For example, why should getting onto an airplane require more security than:
a. getting on a bus b. getting on a subway c. driving an 18-wheeler d. leaving your house
When I ask this, I'm usually told it is because terrorists have used airplanes but haven't used busses, subways and 18-wheelers.
I wonder what we will do when they do. To what extent will we go in the name of "safety"?
No one I know wants to answer that larger question. It is like talking about "how big should government be" or "what should be the absolute maximum tax rate". It is frequently easier to talk about isolated issues than about the big principles.
Yet big principles are what let us write the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I wonder what they would look like if today's politicians tried to write them.
__________2. THROWING AWAY DATA
The USA PATRIOT Act was adopted shortly after the New York attack on September 11. (The name stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). The law is large and complex.
This law combined a large number of changes that law enforcement and the Justice Department wanted. In the rush to "do something", it was passed by Congress with almost no oversight or debate.
One of the provisions of the act is that the FBI can demand that libraries and bookstores turn over records of book loans and purchases. Some libraries now post notices to that effect. For example, libraries in Santa Cruz, California have posted signs warning patrons that "although the Santa Cruz Library makes every effort to protect your privacy, under the federal USA PATRIOT ACT (Public Law 107-56), records of the books and other materials you borrow from this library may be obtained by federal agents."
In addition, the library or bookstore cannot notify the subject of the investigation, either before or after the information is delivered to the FBI. No one can contest the request. And no one can find out precisely what information has been requested and why.
The Justice Department says that no library or book store has been required to produce such records, but the provisions still concern privacy experts. And they concern me.
These provisions impact internet bookstores more than they impact brick-and-mortar book stores. In a brick-and-mortar store, patrons can just use cash. In an internet bookstore, you need to provide your credit card and address.
This article in the October 13 issue of the NY Times tells an interesting story in this regard . . . as a result of the Patriot Act, online bookstores are keeping fewer records and internet customers are buying fewer controversial books.
NY Times Article
electronic Frontier Foundation page on the Patriot Act
ACLU page on the Patriot Act
__________3. Fixing the Patriot Act
Now that the USA PATRIOT Act has been around a while, it has managed to join together Senators who normally don't see eye to eye. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho (R) and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois (D) are cosponsoring the Craig-Durbin “Safety and Freedom ensured” (SAFe) Act. Senators John Sununu (R-NH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) are also co-sponsors of the bill. (Senator Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot act in October 2001.)
The bill seeks to eliminate some of the more worrisome provisions of the law:
--- Limit use of the "sneak and peek" provision, which allows federal agents’ to search Americans’ homes without notifying them for an indeterminate period, to specific circumstances (e.g., when a life is at stake, when evidence may be destroyed or where there is a flight risk) and require that a judge be notified every seven days that the circumstances continue.
--- Limit roving wiretaps, which allow surveillance of any phone a person is known to use, only when the suspect is present and require that warrants for these wiretaps to identify the target and location of the wiretap.
--- Reinstates pre-act standards for seizing business and library records requiring the showing of probable cause (eliminated under the act). Specifically, the bill would preclude investigative fishing expeditions by requiring some individualized suspicion that the targets of the order have some connection to a foreign government or organization --- the FBI would have to show that a suspected terrorist or spy is being targeted.
--- Addresses the use of "national security letters" --- subpoenas issued at the sole discretion of the Attorney General. It provides a special exemption for libraries. Library computers could not be searched without a court order.
Organizations endorsing the act include Gun Owners of America, the Free Congress Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology, electronic Frontier Foundation, American Booksellers Foundation for Free expression, Center for National Security Studies, American Library Association, ACU and ACLU.
Library of Congress Info on the Bill (S.1709)
Text of the Bill (S.1709)
Washington Times Article
Capital Times Article
Atlanta Journal Constitution Article
ACLU Page on the Bill
The Justice Department Web Page Defending the Patriot Act (Preserving Life and Liberty)
__________4. FRee EBOOK - LIMITED TIMe
I wrote about this before, but I wanted to remind you.
Dan Poynter's excellent book on self publishing is, for just a couple of days, available free from Microsoft.
I've heard Dan speak. I own paper copies of four of his books (including this one). I regularly recommend his books.
The Self-Publishing Manual EBook will only be available free through October 23, 2003.
The ebook requires the free Microsoft Reader which you also have to download and install and "validate". The ebook is NOT a PDF file and can only be read on the machine you use to download it (and up to 5 more machines). So you can't send a copy to a friend and I can't send you a copy. You have to download it yourself.
To get the book, go to http://www.microsoft.com/reader/promotions/free_shop.asp
If you would like to sign up for Dan Poynter's excellent newsletter on publishing (Publishing Poynters), go to http://ParaPub.com/news.html.
Finally, Dan encouraged his readers to forward the information far and wide. If you know of other authors who would benefit from Dan's free book, please forward my email to them.