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FBI watching interlibrary loan requests?

“Agents’ Visit Chills UMass Dartmouth Senior.” By Aaron Nicodemus. The Standard-Times

[UPDATE 12/24/2005: This story is a hoax. The student confessed that he had made up the story. What’s disturbing here is that it was so believable in this time of domestic spying, USAPA, and paranoia reminiscent of the 1950s red scare. jrj]

[UPDATE 12/20/2005: There is debate on whether or not this story is a hoax. is tracking the story.]

This one is making the rounds of several library listservs, but has not been picked up by any major media that I can tell. Evidently, the FBI visited a UMass Dartmouth student after he requested Mao Tse-Tung’s book, “The Little Red Book” via interlibrary loan. The story does not say whether the FBI agents were acting under USAPA powers or perhaps via the NSA’s new domestic spying program authorized by President Bush. (Note: this NYT article may require registration. If so, try Bugmenot for anonymous user names/passwords)

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

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  1. Given that even the feds probably don’t have a mole in every library and that there is no standardized reporting for individual ILL requests, my family, my coworkers and I have been brainstorming ways that the federal government could learn about Interlibrary Loan requests triggered by title. So far we’ve got two ideas (Assuming the story is true):

    1) OCLC has been compromised by Homeland Security, either by agreeing to a Sec. 215 request, a national security letter, direct Presidential “authorization” and is being forced to run their ILL file against a list of titles.

    2) OCLC is unaware of gov’t requests, but the gov’t running is a successor program to carnavore or some other “packet sniffing” program on a router on the way to OCLC. Unless ILL requests are encrypted, such a program could pick out ILL forms that met a title criteria.

    Until the student or someone connected with the Dartmouth Library or OCLC comes forward, I think we should reserve judgement on whether this really happened. I tend to be wary of hearsay and the paper quoted by South Coast Today indicated that they had NOT spoken to the student. Also, our gov’t is being amazingly incompetent if they’re still flagging the “Red Book” as worthy of further investigation.

    Definitely a story that bears watching and one our so-called liberal media should be investigating with more vigor! If it turns out to be true, someone should organize a “culture jamming” session where tens of thousands of people simultaenously ILL books deemed likely to arouse the suspicion of the government.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote.

  2. Thanks for the link to boing-boing which is providing good material to help decide whether this story is a hoax. Either way it comes out, I wouldn’t be surprised. But as I noted in my last comment, I automatically somewhat discount hearsay evidence. Hopefully the student can be persuaded to clarify matters.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote

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