Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 10/12/2007
A library angle has emerged in the case of a terrorism suspect indicted in July 2006 (along with a confederate) on charges of going through paramilitary training in Georgia and plotting to attack various targets in the region and elsewhere. The lawyer for Syed Ahmed, 21, a former Georgia Tech student, filed a document in federal court in Atlanta Thursday that FBI agents followed Ahmed to the Chestatee Regional Library, Dawsonville, GA, and searched the computer he had worked on without a warrant, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias responded in a statement to the AP that "The FBI's actions were lawful and appropriate as we will demonstrate when we respond to the motion in court," adding that "public libraries are not safe havens for terrorist-related activity."
(The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom advises librarians
, “If the agent or officer does not have a court order compelling the production of records, the library director should explain the library’s confidentiality policy and the state’s confidentiality law, and inform the agent or officer that users' records are not available except when a proper court order in good form has been presented to the library.”)
Ahmed's lawyer, Jack Martin, said in court papers that an investigator used the computer’s history function to check web pages and e-mail addresses Ahmed had accessed. (Many libraries have equipped their computers to automatically clear each user’s history after a session.) "The actions of the government agent, contrary to the policies and procedures of the library, including policies to ensure the privacy of its authorized library users, violated the defendant's reasonable expectations of privacy," Martin wrote, according to the AP. He seeks the evidence to be suppressed. In the indictment last year, the government said that Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 19, were motivated by the "defense of Muslims or retaliation for acts committed against Muslims." Both are U.S. citizens; Ahmed is Pakistan-born; Sadequee, of Bangladeshi descent, was born in Virginia. Both have pleaded not guilty. The government alleges that the the plot involved meetings, discussions, and training exercises; Martin has said the evidence was "imprudent talk."