Pitco library official lobbies for changes in Patriot Act
John Wilkinson, president of the Pitkin County Library board, recently got back from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he asked members of Congress to consider the impact several new laws may have on libraries.
The USA Patriot Act could hamper a library’s ability to ensure privacy for its patrons. But Wilkinson and other members of the American Library Association are also concerned about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which could impact how libraries preserve archives, including recordings from the Aspen Music Festival and School.
“I think this is truly a First Amendment issue,” Wilkinson said. “These acts were passed without real consideration of the unforeseen consequences. What we’re attempting to do is amend parts of the acts that abridge those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
His trip was part of National Library Legislative Day. As a member of the Colorado Library Board, he was part of nine library representatives from the state to meet with Capitol Hill legislators.
The recording industry is hanging its hat on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was passed in 1998 when the industry was cracking down on people who download music off the Internet.
Wilkinson said that while it’s understandable that copyrights be enforced, a specific part of the act that involves transferring information from medium to medium (such as from record to tape) could wind up preventing preservation in libraries.
“We’re the repository of Aspen Music Festival tapes, and in the process of converting [older reel-to-reel tapes] into CDs, that conversion could be considered an infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” he said.
A current act in front of Congress – HR 107 – would take the language that makes preservation difficult for libraries out of the original act, and a similar antidote is in the works for the Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act was passed seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help law enforcement officers obtain information about potential threats.
But the act could infringe upon First Amendment rights if librarians are required to turn over records to federal agents who can demand them without a search warrant, Wilkinson said.
“They could want to see who has been looking at what Web site and at certain books, and then hold that person without a warrant,” he said.
The new act that librarians support would change the language of the Patriot Act, ensuring that agents would have to have a “reasonable belief that the person whose records are sought is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power,” Wilkinson said.
The Colorado representatives also strongly advocate the reauthorization of the Library Services and Technology Act. The act, passed in 1996, gives states money for information technology.
In Colorado, the $2.5 million obtained through the act is being used to establish a Web site that allows users to search through Colorado newspapers that date back to the 1880s. Wilkinson chairs the archiving committee for the Colorado Library Board.
“The Web site features full text searches of actual articles,” he said. “It’s way, way cool.”
Wilkinson hopes that Aspen newspapers will be added to the archive within the next couple of years. To view the archive, visit http://www.cdpheritage.org/newspapers.
Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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