The Happy Leftie

For lefties and other normal people who have considered suicide when the mainstream 'news' was enuf

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

She's a Super Patriot, a Freedom Fighter and a Librarian, too

Trina Magi cares more about your civil liberties than Bush cares about getting OBL. Give HER the Congressional Medal of Freedom! Big Brother has met his match.

Can you imagine Laura doing this? -hl




In fall 2001, before the ink had dried on the nation's new anti-terrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, University of Vermont librarian Trina Magi was analyzing how the federal measure would affect the civil liberties of library patrons.

The news, Magi concluded, was not good.

In libraries, the law gave federal authorities access to business records of any type. It meant law enforcement officers -- through the authorization of a secret court or a National Security Letter signed by an FBI agent -- could demand access to anything from books and reference materials to computer servers if they believed it could aid an ongoing terrorist investigation.

"When the news came out that civil liberties were not well-protected, it was not a surprise," said Magi, who was recognized this month by fellow librarians for her opposition to the law. "It was a disappointment and a cause for great concern, but I can't say I was shocked."

Since then, the UVM librarian has traveled across the country, publicly fighting the law that opponents say infringes on free speech and abuses Americans' rights to privacy. This month's reauthorization of the Patriot Act, Magi said, does little to appease critics, despite revisions in the law that were meant to improve safeguards on civil liberties.

Magi's stance is backed by local librarians and the American Library Association, which has battled for reforms in the act since it was passed four years ago in the wake of Sept. 11.

But one supporter of the Patriot Act argues that its provisions give law enforcement the necessary tools to prevent another terrorist attack in the United States.

"I know of no documented instance of abuse of any provision of the Patriot Act," said Vermont Law School Professor Michael Mello. "We always recalibrate the balance between liberty and security in war time."

Among the revisions in the renewed Patriot Act is a section addressing the "privacy protection for library patrons." In it, authorities may no longer gain access to library information without a court order as long as the library does not provide "electronic communication services."

Magi contends this section affords libraries little protection, since most rely heavily on computer-driven operations, from record-keeping services to Internet access.

The new law also allows librarians to challenge "gag orders" that accompany all federal requests for information. People challenging the nondisclosure orders must wait a year to begin proceedings, and the government may continue to argue that disclosure of the information is a threat to national security, Magi said.

"They sound like improvements," she said of the revisions, "but when you look at them in detail, there's not a lot there."

Mello said he agrees with Magi's assessment of the revisions, calling the changes "largely cosmetic" and procedural. But the law professor says the Patriot Act, while it has the potential to raise civil liberties issues, is a sound law.

The act, he said, essentially dissolved a "wall" that had previously existed between the CIA and the FBI, preventing the intelligence agencies from sharing information. Mello added that the law gives federal authorities investigative tools and technologies that have been used in the past in other criminal investigations, such as mob infiltration.

"The greatest threat to our civil liberties is al-Qaida," Mello said. "If there's another catastrophic attack, we're not going to be talking about section 215 or whether there ought to be gag orders, we're going to be talking about whether there's going to be martial law."

Robert Resnik, director of Burlington's Fletcher Free Library, said the revisions to the Patriot Act are a move in the right direction but more changes are needed.

"I think it's a step, but the fact of the matter is that the American Library Association is never going to back down on it," Resnik said. "When we're up against legislation that allows government to check every record we have, we need to stand fast. Many librarians would argue that there's no middle ground when it comes to the sanctity of borrowing records."

A former public relations specialist, Magi has applied her media savvy in opposing the law. She has done radio shows and spoken at town meetings with Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who introduced his own bill against the federal measure. She also has conducted media interviews across the country.

Magi's peers and others have taken notice. The university librarian's public campaign against the law helped lead to the Vermont Library Association's taking a vocal stance against the Patriot Act. The state association became the first in the nation to go on record opposing the legislation.

In 2003, Magi received the Vermont Library Association's Sarah C. Hagar Award and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. She was also named Librarian of the Year in 2004 by the New England chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Magi most recently was lauded by the trade publication Library Journal in its March 15 issue.

Despite his support of the Patriot Act, Mello applauds Magi's fight to preserve civil rights.

"I'm a school teacher by trade and my subject is the Constitution, so whenever someone who is not a lawyer or a judge brings attention to rights of civil liberties, I applaud them even though I disagree with some of the merits of their arguments," Mello said.