Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review of Patriotic Information Systems

Patriotic Information Systems

My review of Patriotic Information Systems. Edited by Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson. (Hershey, PA: ICI Publishing, 2008). Published in Online Information Review, 32(6), 2008.

In Patriotic Information Systems, editors Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson, both from North Carolina State University, present ten papers exploring the intersection of the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Although citizens forfeit some freedom for society’s protection in times of crisis, privacy and information access rights are jeopardized in a post 9/11 world.

Divided into sections, “Freedom of Information and Access” and “Security, Technology, and Democracy,” the book questions the survival of egalitarian values in a surveillance society. Garson’s introductory chapter discusses democratic and technological issues elaborated on in later essays and calls for a comprehensive civil remedies statue, noting that “the scales have tipped so heavily in favor of surveillance and security and so much against privacy and freedom, that proposals for reform seem almost utopian” (18). Loendorf’s concluding chapter, “Out of Control? The Real ID Act of 2005,” opposes the implementation of a national ID card due to financial, security, and privacy concerns. Other papers discuss Internet surveillance, radio frequency technology, Freedom of Information Act restrictions, the Patriot Act’s impact on libraries, and information system dismantlement due to perceived security threats.

Describing the Patriot Act as “one of the greatest assaults on personal privacy ever launched upon the citizens of our nation,” the authors castigate the Bush administration’s interpretation and enforcement of privacy and freedom of information laws (vii). They write that “…information gathering [and] sophisticated information gathering tools serve as an important myth promoting greater legitimacy and confidence in the government’s ability to provide security to the citizens” (117). Conflicts between privacy rights and public interest are inevitable, but the shift from transparent policies to massive classification portends a dismal future when IT systems may be “less hospitable to the democratic visions which some theorists once anticipated would be among the most important contributions of information technology to society” (x).

Librarians balance issues of privacy and intellectual freedom with government requests for information. In a chapter discussing studies from the University of Illinois’s Library Research Center, researchers note that “whatever the immediate impact the terrorist attacks had on libraries, it has stayed roughly the same 1 year later, and perhaps demonstrates more long-term effects of September 11 and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act” (87). Another chapter, “Watching What We Read: Implications of Law Enforcement Activity in Libraries Since 9/11” found that budget cuts impacted libraries more than legislation and librarians were hesitant to disparage the act for fear of losing patron support.

Patriotic Information Systems is suggested for information professionals concerned with the compromise of information systems through the interpretation of the Patriot Act. The editors remain hopeful that the upcoming change in administration will lead to truly patriotic information systems that fight terrorism abroad while defending freedom at home.

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