Jessamyn West is a 36-year-old librarian living in central Vermont. But she’s not your stereotypical bespectacled research maven toiling behind a reference desk and offering expert advice on microfiche.
She’s a “radical librarian” who has embraced the hacker credo that “information wants to be free.”
As a result, West and many of her colleagues are on the front lines in battling the USA Patriot Act, which a harried Congress passed a month after 9/11 even though most representatives hadn’t even read the 300-page bill. It gave the government sweeping powers to pursue the “war on terror” but at a price: the loss of certain types of privacy we have long taken for granted.
What got many librarians’ dander up was Section 215 of the law, which stipulates that government prosecutors and FBI agents can seek permission from a secret court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to access personal records — everything from medical histories to reading habits. They don’t need a subpoena. In fact, they don’t need to show that a crime has even been committed. And librarians, stymied by a gag order, are forbidden to tell anyone (except a lawyer).
Naturally, this hasn’t sat well with West, a self-described anti-capitalist blogger who was invited to the Democratic National Convention, and who has posted a page with links and photos that might best be described as library soft-core porn.