This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Electronic Highways

Published: September 9, 2004

Are Your Rights Better Protected Now Than They Were Before Sept. 11?

This Saturday, Sept. 11, commemorates the third anniversary of the events that plunged the United States into a period of deep shock, mourning and anger that still resonates. Unfortunately, over the past three years, the government's response to the crisis has led to legislation that, under the stated aim of combating terrorism to avoid another 9/11, threatens to subvert many of the nation's deepest held principles as stated in the Bill of Rights ( national_archives_experience/charters/ bill_of_rights.html), as well as those stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( /rights.html), the cornerstone of the International Bill of Human Rights (http://www.

The USA-PATRIOT Act ( ) empowers the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to obtain library records, financial statements, medical information and more. Additionally, they can seize property of people who have been involved in civil disobedience. Non-citizens can be arrested and imprisoned without charges. In response to these and other infringements on civil liberties, the ACLU has undertaken a campaign entitled Keep America Safe and Free ( ). Its Web site describes the amendments to the Constitution most affected by the act. Further, it spells out specific actions concerned citizens can take on the community and federal levels to encourage eventual repeal.

Librarians, disdained by Attorney General John Ashcroft (http://www., have taken a firm stand in favor of protecting privacy and freedom of information in the post 9/11 world, as evidenced by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom (http://www. and the American Association of Law Libraries' Washington Affairs Office ( Proclaiming that several sections of the USA-PATRIOT Act are a "present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users," the ALA urges professionals and patrons of libraries to increase awareness and become involved in resisting the efforts to undermine the historic missions of American libraries.

Grassroots organizations are committed to preserve the Constitutionally guaranteed liberties that are eroding as a result of state-sponsored anti-terrorism measures. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (, which operates on the community level, and the more law-and-education-oriented Center for Constitutional Rights ( offer guidelines for outreach in communities and on college campuses.

Human Rights Watch, an international organization, has devoted a portion of its Web site to Human Rights After September 11 ( Not only are the invasive aspects of the USA-PATRIOT Act mentioned, but other violations of civil liberties supported by the Department of Homeland Security, including the torture and abuse of detainees and prisoners-of-war. Like HRW, Amnesty International USA declares "the war on terror must not be an excuse to deny human rights" (

Most recently, this issue has hit home: In May, the arrest of UB Professor Steven Kurtz for his work-in-progress on the political dimensions of biotechnology has garnered national interest. The Web site for the Critical Arts Ensemble Defense Fund ( describes the work of the Critical Arts Ensemble—of which Kurtz is a member—and how the government's interpretation of the group's activities has led to legal proceedings and censorship.

Historical and contemporary threats to freedom of expression in the arts will be addressed at tomorrow afternoon's workshop on "Government Policy, Cultural Production and Personal Privacy," co-sponsored by UB Art Galleries and the UB Law School and hosted by the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy (

—Nina Cascio and Rick McRae, University Libraries