The FBI has decided to tone down a controversial program where it asked librarians - including those at the University of Utah's Marriott Library - about the reading habits and data requests of suspected spies.
FBI Director William Sessions wrote Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee with FBI oversight, that the bureau has implemented new guidelines designed to make its "Library Awareness Program" less offensive to librarians and civil libertarians.The program had brought howls of protest from librarians nationwide who said it infringed on rights of privacy.
For example, when the FBI earlier this year asked the Marriott Library about a possible request by a Soviet diplomat for information from a restricted government data bank, librarians refused to comply saying such information is confidential.
The FBI said that particular request was not part of the formal Library Awareness Program, just an effort to keep track of a possible spy.
But the incident was one of many noted at 14 institutions by the National Security Archive, a non-profit research institute, when it sued the FBI for more information about the program.
The new guidelines may not end controversy about the program - because the FBI will still seek information about some people, but not as many as before.
In the new guidelines, the FBI agrees that outside of the New York City area, it will only ask librarians to voluntarily give information about individuals already identified by the bureau as "known or suspected hostile intelligence agents and co-optees."
But in New York City - home of the United Nations - the FBI will still ask librarians to voluntarily advise of activities of people who identify themselves as Soviet or Soviet-bloc nationals assigned to Eastern bloc establishments.
They will be asked to report about their activities if they seek assistance in conducting library research, request referrals to students or faculty who might be willing to assist in research, remove library materials without permission or seek biographical or personal information.
Edwards said he feels the new guidelines still may not be good enough. "Will talented men and women, whose research we need badly, some with perhaps a foreign accent or appearance, use our libraries with the same enthusiasm know that the FBI has access to library records?" he said.