Legally thwarting FBI surveillance of libraries and ISPs

Steve Schear s.schear at
Wed Oct 26 08:38:03 PDT 2005

I'm one of those that believes that agrees with Louis Brandice's dissenting 
opinion about the constitutionality of wiretaps.  That they violate the 
privacy of those parties who call or are called by the party being wiretapped.

I have written on this in 2002/2003. There seem to be at least two legal 
ways to both obey court orders and also allow the monitored parties a way 
to learn of the activity.

1 - The basic notion is for the University/ISP/library to allow all its 
premises to be bugged.  Every room (except maybe the restroom) by its 
clients (or their proxies).  All communication could be monitored and the 
ISP would have no control.  My understanding of court orders is that they 
must be served on the ISP at its business address.  Once the order is 
opened or discussed by the designated employee who receives the data all 
its clients would know in short order.  The employees and management will 
not have been responsible because they have not taken any affirmative 
actions to allow the information to escape their custody.   They will have 
protected the info with the same diligence they show their own data. ;-)

2 - Alternatively, the organization implements a policy of replying 
positively to all inquiries if asked by a patron/student the when their 
account is free of such court orders.  If a request does come in then the 
db admin can either: fail to respond (monitoring implied), tell them they 
are being monitored (violating the law) or lie and say they are not even if 
they are.  They can charge a fee for this service and use it as a new 
revenue source.

Looks like at least one library is trying a variation the method I suggested...

"The Patriot Act also prohibits libraries and others from notifying patrons 
and others that an investigation is ongoing. At least one library has tried 
a solution to "beat the system" by regularly informing the board of 
directors that there are no investigations. If the director does not notify 
the Board that there are no investigations, it can serve as a clue that 
something may be happening. "

Can the Feds require a librarian to lie to a customer who inquires whether 
their library usage is being monitored?

3 - For libraries another is available.  Libraries routinely assess overdue 
fines and thus most have a cash register at the checkout desk.  If they 
allow patrons to remove books without showing ID and charge them, as a 
refundable deposit, the full replacement value in cash, then no records 
need be created which can be turned over to law enforcement.  A receipt 
might be provided to the patron showing them the last day they may return 
the book without forfeiting the deposit.  They can charge a fee for this 
service and use it as a new revenue source.


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