Sunday, June 04, 2006

U.S. Government wants to track web searches

This article from Good Morning Silicon Valley on Friday - "U.S. Wants Web records" (see: gives us some insight into the extensive nature of the online records that the U.S. government is seeking from all information providers today (from libraries to search engines to Internet Service Providers). This is an FYI to anyone who uses the internet - with the renewal and extension of the Patriot Act, search engines and ISPs are being asked to store considerably more data for the purposes of surveillance of their users' activities on behalf of the government. Normally, I wouldn't dwell on this - most of my blog is designed to be technical -- sort of a "meta" conversation about the work I'm doing, but because I'm so web-involved, I hear about these things and they do affect anyone providing web services.

The article reminds me of the FBI-vs.-Connecticut librarians case re: patron records being summoned by the FBI through the Patriot Act (and how the Patriot Act prevented the librarians in the case from speaking about the summons, even to colleagues).... the "Connecticut Four" filed in court as John Does, seeking the right to speak about the FBI's attempt to gain access to their patrons' records. They were "ungagged" last week. However, the Patriot Act has been renewed and extended in the meantime.

Some articles (and excerpts from them) related to the Patriot Act and patron records are listed below (available for free to any state resident with a valid Connecticut public library card through iCONN):

[From the September 16, 2003 article in the New York Times, by Eric Lichtblau]
Attorney General John Ashcroft today accused the country's biggest library association and other critics of fueling ''baseless hysteria'' about the government's ability to pry into the public's reading habits.
In an unusually pointed attack as part of his latest speech in defense of the Bush administration's counterterrorism initiatives, Mr. Ashcroft mocked and condemned the American Library Association and other Justice Department critics for believing that the F.B.I. wants to know ''how far you have gotten on the latest Tom Clancy novel.''

...Mr. Ashcroft said critics had tried to persuade the public that the F.B.I. was monitoring libraries to ''ask every person exiting the library, 'Why were you at the library? What were you reading? Did you see anything suspicious?' ''The Justice Department, Mr. Ashcroft said, ''has no interest in your reading habits.''
''Tracking reading habits would betray our high regard for the First Amendment,'' he said. ''And even if someone in government wanted to do so, it would represent an impossible workload and a waste of law enforcement resources.''

[available through iCONN at]

[From the Alison Leigh Cowan New York Times article from May 31, 2006]
Being free to speak now, weeks after the Patriot Act was reauthorized for several more years, was ''like being allowed to call the Fire Department after the building has burned down,'' [Library Connection director George Christian] said.
[article available through iCONN -]

[See Michael Golrick's blog entry at for his reaction and the letter from Peter Chase, who was one of the John Does in the case.]

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