Monday, March 20, 2006

Patriot Act Pathfinder

The USA Patriot Act is an extensive piece of legislation, passed in 2001, consisting of amendments to many other laws. Its official name is Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. A similar bill, the USA Act was introduced to Congress earlier the same year, but it failed to pass. However, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress was much more receptive to increasing law enforcement capabilities, and passed the Patriot Act with virtually no debate.

Among other things, the law extends law enforcement capabilities in terms of searches and wiretapping, and includes provisions for gag orders. This means that the subject of a search, the media, or anyone else cannot be informed that the search took place. These provisions have been lauded by some and criticized by others. Two of the most vocal opponents to the Act have been the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Library Association (ALA).

This electronic pathfinder provides links to information about the Patriot Act, including the bill itself and related documents, as well as a variety of sources on both sides of the debate.

Legislation and Information about the Patriot Act

View the complete text of the original Patriot Act, as passed in 2001. Also in PDF.

The Patriot Act was recently reauthorized, in March 2006. View the text of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.

The SAFE Act, or the Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2003, was introduced to modify the Patriot Act in 2003, in order to safeguard civil liberties. It has not passed.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee of the Judiciary has a site devoted to the Patriot Act, including press releases, reports, legislation, etc.

The Office of the Inspector General is required to report to Congress on the implementation of Section 1001 of the USA PATRIOT Act. View the latest report, from March 8, 2006.

The University of Pittsburgh Law School has a webpage devoted to the Patriot Act, including news and related documents.

The Law Library Information Xchange (LLIX) offers a convenient chart describing the law's effect on libraries.

Support for the Act

The White House website has information on new developments regarding the Patriot Act, as well as commentary supporting it.

The Department of Justice has a site devoted to the Act, called Life and Liberty, which portrays it very favorably.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has research and analysis related to the Patriot Act.

Criticism of the Act

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been working diligently to reform the Patriot Act. Their site offers information and ways to become involved.

The American Library Association (ALA) is one of the most vocal critics of the Patriot Act. Their site offers many resources related to the Act, including:
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also has extensive information related to the Patriot Act on their site.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers criticism of the Patriot Act.

Books about the Patriot Act

Rethinking the Patriot Act: Keeping America Safe and Free - by Stephen J. Schulhofer (Century Foundation Press, 2005)

The USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001: Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security: A Reference Handbook - by Howard Ball (ABC-Clio, 2004)

How Patriotic Is the Patriot Act?: Freedom Versus Security in the Age of Terrorism - by Amitai Etzioni (Routledge, 2004)

Refuge of a Scoundrel: The Patriot Act in Libraries - by Herbert N. Foerstel (Libraries Unlimited, 2004)

Equal Justice in the Balance: America's Legal Responses to the Emerging Terrorist Threat - by Raneta Lawson and Michael J. Kelly (University of Michigan Press, 2004)

USA Patriot Act: A Legislative History.... [5 volumes] - compiled by Bernard D. Reams and Christopher T. Anglim (Hein, 2002)

CyberEthics Overview

In both the Ethics and Technology text, by Tavani, and the Readings in CyberEthics text, edited by Spinello and Tavani, the main idea of the initial chapters was simply, "What is cyberethics, and why should we care about it?" The CyberEthics reader, of course, had a less cohesive answer to that, since it provided several different viewpoints on the topic. The primary answer to these questions, however, are:
  1. Cyberethics is the study of moral, legal, and social issues involving cybertechnology (Tavani, p. 2).
  2. We should care to evaluate the ethics of these technologies because they affect everyone, be they computing professionals or laypeople, so we should have comprehensive ethical codes to moderate our actions.
It definitely is true that information ethics issues are prevalent today. The local news in Seattle often presents “horror stories” of internet usage. One example of this is the coverage regarding Although there have been no particularly dramatic stories locally, they describe the site as, “Lots of sex, along with disturbing images, drug content and more sex” in the linked article. The local news tends to be quite sensationalistic, but it does reflect, or create, the fears of the community.

Another topic that receives a great deal of media attention is piracy. The latest incarnation of this is video piracy, by downloading television shows or movies from the internet. I know someone who regularly downloads television shows from According to its own About page, “The Pirate Bay was started by the swedish anti copyright organization Piratbyrån in the late 2003, but is since October 2004 separated and run by dedicated individuals.” This site would likely be shut down if it were based in the US, but the global nature of the Internet allows even Americans to use international sites that are technically illegal for them to access. My acquaintance, who uses the site, justifies his TV downloads by arguing that the TV shows are freely available on TV, and he could record them on a VCR or digital video recorder quite legally. The only difference is that he gets them online.

These issues, and many others, indicate the prevalence of information ethics topics in our society today. I look forward to evaluating these issues in greater depth this quarter, in order to form my own ethical guidelines to help me as an information professional.

Artifacts and Politics; Technologies of the Self

Technological advances have been the major change in my lifetime. New technologies allow us to communicate in many ways that weren’t possible before. A prime example of this is the class we’re all in. It’s on the Internet, and we’ve never met each other, will never see our professor, and never have to set foot on a college campus. Yet we’re able to take classes, get grades, and even diplomas, just as if we were physically attending school. Traditional correspondence courses have existed for quite some time, but they tended to be self-paced, solitary study, since the means of creating the immediacy of classroom interaction simply wasn’t possible through the mail. Now, with the variety of tools available to us through our computers and the Internet, we can get class documents instantly, keep up on our class discussions, have a virtual classroom, and are even able to accomplish group projects with people who live in different states or even countries. The computer and networking advances that have enabled this kind of education has touched all of our lives, since we are able to be students without having to leave our homes, our jobs, or our families to attend a distant college.

The Internet has not only enabled academic pursuits; it also has created new methods of personal communication. I spent about five years living in Argentina, and had a very long-distance (international) boyfriend for one full year. Chatting online made much of the distance bearable, and the communication affordable. Emails were my primary means of keeping up with friends and family. Digital cameras, along with the Internet allowed me to share my life with people far away, showing them my apartment, my travels, my haircuts, and anything else, while I got to see my brother’s fiancée, my sister’s growing belly during pregnancy, and the unseasonable snowfall back home. These kinds of exchanges were priceless to me, and allowed me to remain in the lives of my friends and family back home.

These are definitely positive changes in my life, but in reality, access to these technologies are limited to the privileged classes of the privileged countries, which unfortunately is a minority of the world’s population. In order to attend college online, students need constant access to a (fairly up-to-date) computer and the Internet. So, not only is there the large cost of a computer, there is also the monthly ISP charges. These costs are prohibitive to many, and service is completely unavailable to others, who live in remote or underdeveloped areas. Another factor in access is prior education. Many people have not learned to use these technologies, often because they grew up in an area with poor schools, without modern technology, or because of their age. The elderly are almost completely excluded from these advances, because they simply have no idea how to use them. For children, there is also a large digital divide based on family income. 75% of children whose parents earn over $75,000 use the internet, compared with only 37% of those whose families earn under $20,000. These figures only indicate any kind of Internet access, so in reality the gap is even larger, since the poorer children only have access at school or in the library, while the more privileged children have home access. (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2004). Children, the digital divide, and federal policy.)

In addition to the financial and physical barriers to access, there are also linguistic barriers. Computer technologies, including the Internet, are very English-based. This is a problem for people around the world, as well as immigrants within the US. Computer programmers use computer languages that are based on English, so people who speak English have a large advantage in these fields over those who don’t. Even attempting to get online is an enormous challenge for a non-English speaker. I recently helped a library patron who only spoke Spanish set up an email account, and saw firsthand the challenge it presented. The repercussions of this English-based technology are being felt around the world, where the educated, English-speaking classes are able to use the technology, and the less educated are being left even farther behind.

The changes brought by new communication technologies can enrich our lives, but many people are unable to access them. This digital divide leads to a larger gap between the rich and poor within every country, and to larger gaps between rich and poor countries, as well. The ramifications of this trend, as well as the form of linguistic imperialism that has resulted from computer technology, are far-reaching, and we are yet to discover their full extent. In future years, I expect will we see this trend continue, but I hope I am wrong, and that we can begin to close these gaps, and allow all people to benefit from technological innovations.

Just Consequentialism and the Potter Box in Information Ethics

Imagine you are working doing website development for a non-profit organization that has patrons/users from several different language groups, English and two others. Describe how you would decide how to deal with providing access to all of the users and how you would convince your supervisors and others that the expenditure for your time and expertise is worthwhile.

Empirical definition

The purpose of the website is to serve and/or communicate with the users.

The users speak three different languages.

Creating a multi-lingual site will take longer and cost more.

Non-profits have limited funds.

The purpose of a non-profit is to serve.

Identifying values

Equality - All users should be treated equally.

Accessibility – All users should be able to access information.

Ethical principles

Using the “Veil of Ignorance,” we can see that all the users deserve equal treatment, regardless of social factors, including language.

With the “Categorical Imperative,” I would like to be able to access needed information, without being limited by my language. Access without language barriers would be a good universal law.

Under utilitarianism, we can see that with a multi-lingual website, more users will be happy.


I am loyal to my employer, the non-profit organization, along with its financial obligations.

I am loyal to the users, the people my website is meant to serve.


To do my job ethically, it is clear that I must provide access to all the users of the non-profit’s site. What I would propose is to have a home page that identifies the non-profit, and welcomes users in all three languages. They can then click on a link for the appropriate language to enter the content portion of the site. This will give access to all users and treat all of them equally, by not favoring one language over another.

In order to keep costs and development time down, I would create the site using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which maintain the formatting and style throughout the site.

ALA Code of Ethics

  • Does the code reflect a foundation in utilitarianism or deontology? Other ethical traditions? Describe.

The ALA Code of Ethics seems to be based upon a deontological philosophy. The importance of each individual, and their rights and freedoms is stressed throughout the code. This is in following with the categorical imperative to “act always on that maxim or principle that can be universally binding, without exception, for all human beings” (Tavani p. 49). Some of the phrasing from the Code of Ethics that indicates this philosophy are:

“highest level of service to all library users”
“each library user’s right to privacy”
“safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees”

Clearly, each individual is highly valued in the ALA’s code, which is in keeping with deontology.

  • Does the code address individual members, the profession at large, and/or the public? Are there enforcement provisions?
The code opens by stating the importance of codifying their principles and making them known “to the profession and to the general public.” The principles of the code are intended to be followed by all members of the profession, not just members of the ALA. The general public is not expected to be bound by these principles, though they may find them helpful in understanding the role the library will play with regards to their rights as a patron.There are no enforcement provisions in the Code of Ethics.

  • Is the code a useful document to present the profession to a national or international audience?

I think it is a very useful document, because it encapsulates within 8 simple principles, the driving force of librarians. Therefore, when any conflict arises, such as attempts at censorship, the library professionals can present the code as support for their actions. It gives strength to the profession as a whole, by providing tenets that will be useful in all libraries, in all communities.

  • What current public policy issues are noted or implied?

The conflict over age-based restrictions is implied in the first principle, which provides for “equitable service policies” and “equitable access.”

Piracy and other violations of copyright law are very big issues currently, especially in reference to internet downloading. These issues are referenced in Principle IV, “We recognize and respect intellectual property rights.”

  • If you were to update the code, what would you include? For example, does the code discuss the Internet or electronic resources? What about workplace surveillance of employees? Ethnic diversity? Civil liberties? Other topics?

I think the code does an excellent job of laying out principles that are broad enough to cover new situations, as well as old. Although ethnic diversity and civil liberties are not mentioned in the code, I think they are covered by the emphasis on equitable treatment and the other rights laid out in the policy.

Workplace surveillance of employees I think is covered under Principle V, which states, “We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.” This implies opposition to surveillance of employees, because it is not in good faith, and does not respect employees right to privacy.

The tenets of this code are clear, but general enough to cover unexpected situations. Even though it was adopted over 10 years ago, in 1995, the code seems to provide coverage for issues we face today.


ALA Code of Ethics retrieved from:

The Patriot Act and Librarianship

Part 1: The Role of the Professional

The USA Patriot Act has been very controversial within the library profession. The ALA has taken a strong stand against provisions of the Act, and it has influenced virtually everyone who works in libraries.


The Patriot Act has had a negative impact on the community in general, and on librarians in particular. The Act provides for automatic gag orders in association with all searches carried out under its provisions. This imposed silence limits the communication and information sharing that is so important in the library profession. It also creates distrust in the community, since library patrons have no way of knowing if their records are being searched or not. They don’t know if they can trust the library to protect their confidentiality or not, which hinders the sense of community.


Who owns patron records? Does the information belong to the patron, the library, or is it public record? The Patriot Act takes the position that this doesn’t really matter, since according to the Act, any records, regardless of their ownership, should be searchable by the US government.


The question of access in relation to the Patriot Act can have two interpretations. First, who has the right to access patron records? And second, how much freedom do patrons have to access materials freely in the library? Fear that accessing certain materials may be a “red flag” for authorities may limit the freedom some people feel when accessing materials at the library.


This is one of the key issues on this topic, because the stance of most library professionals is that patron confidentiality (privacy) is of the utmost importance. This privacy is not respected by the Patriot Act, which takes the opposing viewpoint that the government should be able to search patron records.


Security is the government’s key argument in favor of the Patriot Act. The administration argues that the wide latitude given to law enforcement officers under the Patriot Act is essential to protect national security. People who support that argument claim that librarians are endangering the security of the country when they fight the Act, or resist subpoenas.

Part II: The Role of Associations

The ALA, as I mentioned above, has taken a strong stand against the Patriot Act. They have created a Resolution on the Patriot Act. This resolution lays out the problems with the act, and then encourages library staff to “adopt and implement patron privacy and record retention policies” that limit the records kept by the libraries. In addition, the ALA resolution notes that “sections of the USA PATRIOT Act are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users” ( The ALA has been a strong voice, and possibly the most prominent one, in opposition to the Patriot Act.

This role the ALA has chosen to play is clearly an attempt to shape public policy, and it has met with significant criticism, as well as support. As Capurro points out, “in an information society, the question of freedom of access has become crucial.” For this reason, libraries play an important role in the public debate on access. The associations related to the library professions rightly view their role as one of protecting free access to information. Such associations, with the ALA at the forefront, will continue to play an essential role in defending the rights of their patrons.


Capurro, R. (1996). Information Technology and Technologies of the Self. Journal of Information Ethics, V5 (2), 19-28. Retrieved 12/25/2005.

Elrod, E. & Smith, M. (2005). Information Ethics. In Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics, Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2: D-K (1004-1011). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.