Burlington, Vermont -- November 30, 2002
Congress passed the Patriot Act to give the government greater power to hunt down terrorists. But critics say it targets law-abiding Americans. Now the debate has landed in Burlington, where the city council is scheduled to vote on a resolution urging at least partial repeal of the act.The problem, according to the critics, is that a trip to your local public library could conceivably put you under surveillance by the government -- as a potential terrorist. Among other changes to existing law, the Patriot Act allows the FBI and other government agencies to monitor the books you read and the Internet web sites you visit, not only at the library but from any computer. Moreover, Librarians are prohibited from talking about any visits they may get from the government.
"The Vermont library association is very concerned about this act," Trina Magi, past President of the Vermont Library Association, told Channel 3. "We think that if you have to start wondering what your reading list might look like to an FBI agent then you might just start to censor yourself and not read the things that you want to read. And the moment you have to begin thinking about that, you are no longer free to be an informed citizen."
The resolution's co-sponsor is Magi's husband, Progressive city councilor Doug Dunbebin (Ward 3). He said, "I think there needs to be a proper balance between personal safety and personal privacy."
Dunbebin points to more than a dozen cities around the country that have passed similar resolutions, most recently Eugene, Oregon. He said libraries are only part of the concern. "Additionally, what it does (the Patriot Act) is allow the federal government to conduct secret searches in peoples' homes. It also allows the federal government to monitor -- increase their ability to monitor -- telephone communications as well as Internet activity, and it also gives the federal government access to personal records such as education, the library records, health records, medical records."
Patriot Act supporters say government access to traditionally private personal records still require a judge's approval, although the process is secret under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The local board that oversees the Fletcher Free Library already voted in favor of the same resolution that goes to the city council Monday night. But not everyone agrees that the Patriot Act is a relevant local issue.
Republican city councilor Kevin Curley (Ward 4) dismissed the resolution as a product of the city's dominant faction. "You know, this is just more typical Progressive politics," he said. "You play on peoples' fears and emotions."
Curley called the threat to civil liberties overblown. "The truth of the matter," he said, "is that how many people are really going to be looked into? Probably some people with some just cause. And what's the percentage of folks that have just cause to be looked at? I would think in the city of Burlington that's such a minute number, and maybe it's warranted for the minute number that's there."
Librarians, already on record against what they fear amounts to an assault on personal liberty, will follow the debate as the Patriot Act comes under scrutiny on the local level. The city council meets Monday Dec. 2 at 7:00pm at Contois auditorium in city hall.
Andy Potter, Channel 3 News