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Memo shows US has not used Patriot Act to seek library data

WASHINGTON -- Perhaps nothing in the USA Patriot Act has fed fears of rampant government snooping more than a part of the antiterrorism law allowing federal agents to obtain library and business records.

But a memorandum obtained late yesterday by Knight Ridder shows for the first time the number of times that law enforcement made use of that power: zero.

The number had been classified, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, and other critics to accuse the government of using the secret warrants to violate First Amendment and privacy rights.

Some libraries and bookstores were so worried that FBI agents might show up on their doorsteps that they took to destroying patrons' records. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in July challenging the provision.

Justice Department officials have long insisted that such warrants are used rarely and only with proper judicial oversight from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees espionage and foreign terrorism cases. This week, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft called complaints about the law "baseless hysteria."

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the Washington office of the American Library Association, said she was shocked by the lack of warrants, but said it showed that the power wasn't needed. "If this number is accurate, then they have demonstrated that there is no need to change the tradition of protecting library patrons' reading records," she said.

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