Thursday, January 12, 2006


To be honest, I have had some second thoughts about this post, on a blogger who found an old circulation card showing that Judge Samuel Alito checked a journal out of Princeton's library in 1972. As one commenter noted, the post I was criticizing wasn't sinister in nature. Instead, the blogger, who is not a librarian, turned up the circulation card in his garage.

Upon reflection, I did overstate the matter. Still, I will offer this one caveat: one of the main objections to the Patriot Act has been that the privacy of library circulation records should be sacrosanct, and that preserving patron confidentiality is essential to intellectual freedom. When the FBI asked a library in Washington for a list of everyone who checked out a book about Osama bin Laden, it was considered a great affront to patron privacy. Yet here is a situation where a card listing all the people who checked out a particular item was simply thrown in a dumpster, found, and eventually published in part on the web. Yes, it was an old list, but my understanding is that there is no statute of limitations on patron privacy.

I highly doubt that Judge Alito would be upset by the revelation that he checked out an academic journal in 1972, and it certainly doesn't reflect poorly on him. However, let me offer one hypothetical: suppose this circulation card signed by the future Judge Alito had been for a book that could be perceived as embarrassing or damaging to his reputation? Is there any doubt that this information would have been used against him?


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