A rural Washington state library is actually challenging a PATRIOT Act subpoena.
The attorney for the Whatcom County Rural Library District revealed a memorandum in support of a motion to quash a subpoena filed on July 9 requiring the disclosure of the names and addresses of people who borrowed the book, "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America" on Sept. 27 at Village Books in Fairhaven. The attorney, Deborra Garrett, said the subpoena infringed on the constitutional rights of those who borrowed the book by Yossef Bodansky.
According to Garrett's memorandum to the U.S. District Court in Seattle, a library patron contacted Bellingham FBI agent James Powers in June regarding a handwritten note in the margins of the book from the Deming branch of the library. The note stated: "If the things I'm doing is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God."
Powers contacted the library district after receiving this information, and requested further information on the book, which an unnamed library employee denied, according to the memorandum. The employee told Powers to contact Garrett, who told him the library's policy is to not release information regarding the books people borrow without a subpoena. "Fortunately, our library has a very strong training program ... insuring that the staff have a deep understanding of what the expectations of the library are regarding confidentiality," library district director Joan Airoldi said.
After searching the Internet for postings containing key phrases from the note, Garrett found a quote on the Time magazine education Web site by Osama bin Laden in a 1998 interview almost identical to the writing in the book and wrote to Powers informing him of her research. Powers still hand-delivered the subpoena requiring the library district to disclose the requested information on June 18.
Garrett said the subpoena should be quashed because the Constitution protects the information the FBI requested. Furthermore, Washington state's revised disclosure laws prohibit any release of library records that could disclose the identities of those who check out or buy books.
Sadly, Washington state's disclosure laws are likely irrelevant in this case; when federal and state law conflict on a given issue, federal law generally supercedes state law.
A small illustration of the draconian complexities of the PATRIOT Act:
Fighting the subpoena in court? Entirely legal. Huzzah!
Revealing the fact that you were served a subpoena which you are now fighting in the first place? Tsk, tsk, tsk. You have now violated the PATRIOT Act! Do not pass go, head directly to jail. (Although there are probably one or two issues with arresting the plaintiff's lawyer in such a situation. Then again, Ashcroft's Star Chamber has shown little care about the dreadfully bad public relations such actions cause.)
One might note as well that, unless sealed by the court, such proceedings are in fact a matter of public record. Said proceedings have not yet been sealed, as I understand it. Thus, the fact that one is contesting the subpoena is perforce now public. I'm guessing that the U.S. District Court in Seattle is now itself technically in violation of the PATRIOT Act.
I do hope that Whatcom County Rural Library District wins its case. It would be a good thing to have at least substantial portions of the Constitutional Evisceration Act of 2001 stricken as unconstitutional, and this case might be a good vehicle for doing so.Posted by iain at September 28, 2004 08:40 PM