Evanston considers voting to oppose USA Patriot Act

Scott Gordon

As Evanston could soon become the first city in Illinois to passa resolution opposing the USA Patriot Act.

The act, passed by Congress about a month after the terroristattacks of Sept. 11, 2001, expanded the federal government’s powersof surveillance and detainment. Now the government can look atsuspects’ business records. This has been interpreted to include,among other things, books borrowed and Web sites viewed at publiclibraries.

Paula Haynes, director of the Evanston Human RelationsCommission, said the resolution urging the city to back repealingparts of the act could come before Evanston City Council inMay.

The issue first came up in February when the Evanston CivilLiberties Coalition asked the Human Relations Commission toconsider the resolution condemning the act. Ed Yohnka, director ofcommunications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois,said the ACLU’s legal staff helped the Evanston activists draft theresolution.

At a public hearing March 6, nearly 100 Evanston residentssupported the resolution.

The commission then made changes to the original proposal duringits March 26 meeting. The original draft had called for the repealof the entire act. But the commission thought it more appropriateto urge only the repeal of the act’s most alarming provisions,Haynes said.

The commission also disagreed with certain recommendations that”bordered on civil disobedience,” such as urging library employeesnot to cooperate with federal agents using the act to obtainlibrary records, Haynes said.

Yohnka said the ACLU has told librarians to educate theirpatrons about the act and to seek legal methods to ensure privacy.The library board in Skokie voted recently to post signs warningpatrons that the government could search their records.

Madeline Goldstein, co-founder of the Evanston Coalition, saidshe is pleased with the commission’s work but isn’t sure if thefinal resolution will have “real teeth.”

Northampton, Mass., became the first city to vote to condemn theact in May 2002. On Monday, the city of Mill Valley, Calif., passedthe 73rd and most recent resolution, Yohnka said. Similarresolutions are also pending in the Alaska and Hawaii, according tothe ACLU.

Library Director Neal Ney, who is also chairman of the IllinoisLibrary Association’s Public Policy Forum, said he expects theorganization’s executive board to approve a resolution within thenext few weeks opposing the provisions of the act that affectlibraries.

“The confidentiality of library records has been an issue in thefield since the 1960s,” Ney said. “We will release nothing exceptin response to a court order.”

Still, Ney is worried that federal agents could remove librarycomputers and place a wiretap on the library’s Internet serviceprovider. Under the act, library employees confronted byinvestigators are forbidden to tell even their supervisors whetherthey have been approached or what information they provided, Neysaid.

In March, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the ACLUand several library and booksellers organizations sued the JusticeDepartment for the release of information about the implementationof the act.

The American Library Association and 32 of its state chaptershave passed resolutions opposing the act, said DeborahCaldwell-Stone, deputy director of the association’s IntellectualFreedom Committee.