Sunday, December 18, 2005

The irony of creeping totalitarianism

Via Daily Kos, Another sign of creeping totalitarianism in the US: The Department of Homeland security is monitoring which books people read:

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.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

Well, it looks like he got a first-hand lesson in what he was studying. But jokes aside, this is really rather frightening. What else are they monitoring? What other "suspicious" behaviour will get you a visit from the "defenders" of American "freedom"? And if they're already at this stage - something which would be decried as the height of totalitarianism if the story was told about Stalin's Russia or present-day China - what exactly are they supposed to be "defending"?

Update (24/12/05): The story was a hoax. See here for details.


For some years now I've believed that the USA is turning into a totalitarian surveillance state. This is just one more small piece of evidence in support of my theory. George Orwell would have understood the situation perfectly.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/18/2005 04:46:00 PM

what a waste of agents - they should be out there spying on big business and blackmailing politicians as opposed to spying on the books kids read.

Posted by Genius : 12/18/2005 04:52:00 PM

That is incredibly scary. Incredibly.

Posted by Xavier : 12/18/2005 10:16:00 PM

Genius: Or more importantly, protecting America's ports (which are pretty much undefended). But they'd rather waste their time settling old scores from the 50's and trying to exercise thought control.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/18/2005 10:58:00 PM

Libraries in the States are getting severely shafted by the PATRIOT Act. They have to hand over information about what their customers are reading if Homeland Security requests it, and aren't permitted to inform anyone that such requests have been made.

Librarians are pretty big on freedom of information and their customers' right to privacy, but they're also law-abiding to a fault. A big fault, in this case. Civil disobedience ought to have been seen as a professional obligation for the guys handling that interlibrary loan.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 12/19/2005 03:29:00 AM

Still -until they actualy make this a crime the librarians are not really causing any trouble for the students because the police are just coming around to talk to them (and maybe make them resent the state as a side effect).
What would be interesting is if they handed out the details for a few politcians kids just to see what would happen.

Posted by Genius : 12/19/2005 06:37:00 AM

Hmmm, lots of time abroad (gotta love how that's an indicator of suspicious activity) and a reader of books about communism ... that would describe a certain C. Rice would it not?

Posted by dc_red : 12/19/2005 07:32:00 AM

The American Library Association has been fighting the PATRIOT act since its inception. On their website, here
they have a series of detailed instructions for dealing with demands for borrower information. They also recommend their members operate a slash and burn policy on old information ie once a book is returned, the borrower record is destroyed. Librarians tend to be over-educated trendy left-wing liberals and they're fighting this bastard piece of legislation with everything they've got.

Posted by Ghet : 12/19/2005 10:13:00 AM

Can you see the tui billboard:
America: Land of the Free | yeah, right

That is truly worrying, especially since almost every political science student reads The Communist Manifesto and the like. Truly worrying.

Posted by The Doorman : 12/19/2005 10:39:00 AM