Bowdoin community prepares for Patriot Act I
The center of discussion surrounding the Patriot Act lies hundreds of miles away from Brunswick, yet new legislation strengthening law enforcement's anti-terrorist capabilities is creating debate on the Bowdoin campus.
The most wide-reaching and controversial of these new laws is the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The act loosens restrictions pertaining to official criminal investigations while strengthening immigration laws to deter terrorists from entering the country.
The act's implications hit much closer to home for Bowdoin students-as near to them as their overdue library books. Under the Patriot Act's regulations, the personal records of any student or faculty member-library records in particular-are accessible to any law enforcement agency conducting a terror investigation without a search warrant.
As a member of the American Library Association, the library is bound to a strict code of ethics in which user privacy is central. Bowdoin's librarians are subsequently unhappy with the alleged invasion of privacy provided for in the legislation.
"We are very distressed about the Patriot Act," said Sherrie Bergman, head librarian at Hawthorne-Longfellow.
The Patriot Act specifies that, in the event of a terror investigation involving a student or faculty member, Bowdoin employees are required to comply with a set of guidelines under penalty of law.
They have been trained to respond to a personal information investigation by a federal law enforcement agency.
The College has not received any requests in conjunction with the Patriot Act according to Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley. If such a request does arrive however, Bradley said Bowdoin will follow within the legal guidelines of the act while attempting to maintain a standard of discretion.
"We will try within the limits of the law to protect privacy on campus," he said.
The guidelines were outlined in "Bowdoin College Procedure for Responding to Law Enforcement Requests for Disclosure of Information," a memorandum distributed to all relevant Bowdoin employees and discussed in special meetings at the beginning of the semester.
Some believe that the Patriot Act is a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism.
"I think it can be pretty useful to law enforcement agencies, but they shouldn't use their new power randomly," said first year Christopher Bixby.
The Patriot Act is not the only new law sparking discussion at Bowdoin. The Domestic Security Enhancement Act, dubbed "the Patriot Act II," has yet to be approved by Congress. It would expand federal law enforcement agencies' powers further than the Patriot Act. Additionally, an immigration provision in the second act has set off a firestorm of debate on all sides of the political spectrum.
Under the stipulation, a lawful immigrant or resident alien suspected of engaging in terrorist activities or conspiring with a terrorist group could be deported to his or her country of origin without a court hearing.
That possibility has caused concern among Bowdoin's international student contingent, which fears that laws like this could deter well-intentioned people wishing to study or work in the U.S.
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe declined to comment when contacted for her
position on the Domestic Security Enhancement Act.