LOS ANGELES - In a unanimous vote last night, the City Council of West Hollywood passed a resolution regarding the civil liberties dangers of the USA PATRIOT Act, the first Southern California city to join a growing movement across the nation of local jurisdictions voicing dissent and exploring ways of responding locally to USA Patriot's civil liberties threats. Twenty-six other cities and counties have passed such resolutions, including Oakland, Denver, and Detroit, in part of a national movement led by the ACLU and other groups.
The City of West Hollywood was also one of 5 cities in the nation to address the issue of library privacy explicitly in its resolution and has instructed city librarians to notify patrons about the impact USA PATRIOT has on the privacy of patron records, including Internet searches. Librarians across the country have been expressing concern about the ways in which the PATRIOT Act compromises patrons' privacy.
'Libraries should be a bastion of intellectual freedom,' said Ramona Ripston, 'but when federal law enforcement authorities have the power to conduct secret searches, then everyone's intellectual freedom is compromised.'
'Your library card should be your passport to a world of your own, a private world, and your librarian should be the trusted custodian of that privacy. But changes in federal law have altered that basic understanding,' said Ripston. 'In the cold war, we saw that libraries across the nation were visited and searched; people with foreign-sounding names were automatic suspects. Unfortunately, we've returned to that era under Attorney General Ashcroft.'
Since 9/11, library patrons have far fewer protections against privacy violations. Business records, including library records, are subject to searches authorized by secret courts, and librarians are prohibited from informing individual patrons whose records are seized. In addition, searches of library Internet use records potentially expose all library patrons to law enforcement scrutiny.
The City of West Hollywood also instructed its Public Safety staff to review all of the ways in which the city can ensure the First Amendment rights of its residents.
'The First Amendment provision of the West Hollywood resolution is critical,' said Ripston. 'So many of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act chill freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and even, potentially, the free exercise of religion. When government agents spy on domestic groups, as they are authorized to do now, individuals take real risks in participating in dissent. Likewise, mosques or other religious establishments may, as a result of Attorney General Ashcroft's power grab, be targeted with domestic surveillance.'