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Reviewed by:
  • Refuge of a Scoundrel: The Patriot Act in Libraries
  • Christopher R. Bloss
Refuge of a Scoundrel: The Patriot Act in Libraries. By Herbert N. Foerstel. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2004. xiv, 218 pp. $35.00. ISBN 1-59158-139-7.

This is one of the single most important resources for anyone curious about the sweeping effects on personal privacy under the Patriot Act. Although librarians and library administrators will find useful information about their responsibilities in regard to the provisions of the Patriot Act, the book is also an important resource for all individuals concerned about government surveillance techniques and concomitant responsibilities and personal freedom and privacy to use and exploit the resources of their local information sources (libraries, both academic and public, and bookstores).

Herbert Foerstel, former head of branch libraries at the University of Maryland, opens with a historic overview of government surveillance in libraries, beginning with the Library Awareness Program and followed by an overview of library visits by agents of federal organizations and the ramifications the program had in the development and consequent passage of the Patriot Act. Best exemplifying the questionable manner in which the Library Awareness Program was adopted, Foerstel explains, "The Library Awareness Program was created within the FBI's bureaucracy. It was authorized by no federal law. As a result, the constitutional challenges offered to the Library Awareness Program on the basis of freedom of speech and inquiry were tentative at best" (35). This important chapter leads into an even more protracted and curious discussion about the origins and discussions that went into approving the far-reaching powers of surveillance offered to law enforcement agents under the auspices of the Patriot Act.

Under the Patriot Act agents now have powers hitherto unknown to agencies to "spy" on patrons and their individual research pursuits without proving the information is required for any particular investigation; in short, it allows for [End Page 201] "fishing" expeditions without proving cause. Following a detailed and informative description of the passage and provisions of the Patriot Act, Foerstel offers examples that libraries and librarians have adopted in order to ensure confidentiality for their patrons. Information professionals and bookstore vendors will appreciate cases and methods for thwarting the far-reaching impact of the Patriot Act. Individuals will appreciate the inclusion of various conversations and arguments posed by various federal representatives in their sweeping support of the act without acknowledging the serious civil rights violations that accompany this unheard-of sweeping power. All readers will appreciate Foerstel's amazingly detailed re-creation of the events surrounding the passage of the Patriot Act, along with the notable recommendations for information centers.

In the final chapter, "Fighting Back," Foerstel offers various current efforts to resist or alter the provisions of the Patriot Act. In concluding remarks, the author indicts then-Attorney General John Ashcroft for his claim that the FBI had not used the powers of the Patriot Act to gain access to library records: "But librarians suspected that full data on the use of the Patriot Act would never be forthcoming. All they had to work with were Ashcroft's leaked memo and his recent speeches in defense of the Patriot Act. Civil liberties advocates thus began examining Ashcroft's statements, parsing his words, seeking clarification. Was he telling the truth? Was it the full truth? Was it nothing but the truth?" (178).

This book is recommended for all libraries, small or large, public or academic; further, it is a must for any individual interested in a very careful, thoughtful, and detailed portrayal of governmental surveillance issues in information centers. Librarians and library administrators will particularly appreciate the numerous case examples offered in the text as well as advice on what types of policy statements should be developed and methods employed to protect both the institution and its patrons. The book comes with a clear index as well as an appendix of sample court orders. Highly recommended.

Christopher R. Bloss
University of South Dakota, Vermillion, South Dakota


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pp. 201-202
Launched on MUSE
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