Busted for book club? Why cops want to see what you’re reading, with Sarah Lamdan (Lock and Code S05E14)

This week on the Lock and Code podcast

More than 20 years ago, a law that the United States would eventually use to justify the warrantless collection of Americans’ phone call records actually started out as a warning sign against an entirely different target: Libraries.

Not two months after terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, Congress responded with the passage of The USA Patriot Act. Originally championed as a tool to fight terrorism, The Patriot Act, as introduced, allowed the FBI to request “any tangible things” from businesses, organizations, and people during investigations into alleged terrorist activity. Those “tangible things,” the law said, included “books, records, papers, documents, and other items.”

Or, to put it a different way: things you’d find in a library and records of the things you’d check out from a library. The concern around this language was so strong that this section of the USA Patriot Act got a new moniker amongst the public: “The library provision.”

The Patriot Act passed, and years later, the public was told that, all along, the US government wasn’t interested in library records.

But those government assurances are old.

What remains true is that libraries and librarians want to maintain the privacy of your records. And what also remains true is that the government looks anywhere it can for information to aid investigations into national security, terrorism, human trafficking, illegal immigration, and more.

What’s changed, however, is that companies that libraries have relied on for published materials and collections—Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier, Lexis Nexis—have reimagined themselves as big data companies. And they’ve lined up to provide newly collected data to the government, particularly to agencies like Immigrations and Customers Enforcement, or ICE.

There are many layers to this data web, and libraries are seemingly stuck in the middle.

Today, on the Lock and Code podcast with host Davd Ruiz, we speak with Sarah Lamdan, deputy director Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, about library privacy in the digital age, whether police are legitimately interested in what the public is reading, and how a small number of major publishing companies suddenly started aiding the work of government surveillance:

“Because to me, these companies were information providers. These companies were library vendors. They’re companies that we work with because they published science journals and they published court reporters. I did not know them as surveillance companies.”

Tune in today to listen to the full conversation.

Show notes and credits:

Intro Music: “Spellbound” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Outro Music: “Good God” by Wowa (unminus.com)

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