Sunday, May 22, 2005

Some More Orwell

As Congress re-examines The Patriot Act in order to determine what changes are needed before extending its life, perhaps Congress should also take note of the latest in library technology.

Before long, patrons wanting to use Naperville Public Library System computers without a hassle will have to prove their identity with a fingerprint.

The three-library system this week signed a $40,646 contract with a local company, U.S. Biometrics Corp., to install fingerprint scanners on 130 computers with Internet access or a time limit on usage.

The decision, according to the American Library Association, makes Naperville only the second library system in the country to install fingerprint scanners.

Library officials say the added security is necessary to ensure people who are using the computers are who they say they are.

Officials promise to protect the confidentiality of the fingerprint records. But with Congress contemplating an expansion of the USA Patriot Act, which gives federal authorities access to confidential library records, and cameras watching the streets some Chicagoans drive or the sidewalks they stroll, privacy advocates are concerned about yet another erosion of personal liberty.

"We take people's fingerprints because we think they might be guilty of something, not because they want to use the library," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Many Americans don't have home computers because they can't afford them. They use the library set-up as the only way to go on-line and get news, do research for their high school term paper, or send email. Having computers in public libraries makes sense.

Unfortunately, The Patriot Act as it now stands allows government agencies such as the FBI to comb through library records to see who is reading/seeing what. The new technology being put into place in the Naperville Public Library will make that much easier.

It looks like a central data base on all Americans is now just a mouse click away.


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