On his fence-mending tour of the nation last week Attorney General John Ashcroft said librarians were “hysterical” about the U.S.A. Patriot Act. PW Daily reports:
- During one speech, he said, “Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading? No. The law enforcement community has no interest in your reading habits. Tracking reading habits would betray our high regard for the First Amendment, and even if someone in government wanted to do so, it would represent an impossible workload and a waste of law enforcement resources.”
Until this week, the Justice Department had refused requests to release information about how often the Justice Department has used section 215 of the Patriot Act to obtain customer records at bookstores and libraries. In a dramatic change, on Wednesday, Ashcroft phoned ALA president Carla Hayden and told her he would declassify the data.
….Later on Thursday, he said that the records would show the Justice Department had not exercised its powers under the Act to look at any customer activities without first notifying the parties of the probe. A confidential memo from Ashcroft to FBI Director Robert Mueller obtained by the Washington Post on Thursday appears to confirm Ashcroft’s claim. In it, Ashcroft writes, “The number of times [the provision] has been used to date is zero.”
Nevertheless, a gag provision in the Act still prevents those against whom the Act has been used from telling anyone about the Justice Department’s investigation.
One can only imagine why Ashcroft fought revealing this information – that Justice has never used the controversial provision – which caused every manner of suspicion and speculation and caused even pro-war, pro-security-types such as myself to question the entire endeavor. Ashcroft really is a dick in my final considered opinion, but I am pleased to hear our reading habits have not been monitored.