Wednesday, February 13, 2008

FBI Tracking Book Sales?

I have been skeptical of the often overwrought claims that the federal government is monitoring the reading habits of Americans. In the interests of fairness, however, I need to note this February 11 article from WorldNetDaily. The conservative news site reports on an alleged FBI program to track the sales trends of books covering certain sensitive topics:

Counterterrorist analysts at the FBI have been monitoring the sales velocity of books dealing with aviation and other security issues, WND has learned.

The bureau recently sent a letter to Prometheus Books in New York to inquire about a recent spike in sales of a title critical of gaps in airport security.

The book, "Aviation Insecurity: The New Challenges of Air Travel," experienced a surge in orders in the fourth quarter, raising a red flag at the FBI.

In my view, this is not a threat to privacy, as long as the focus of the program is on how many copies of the book are being sold, not the identity of the individuals buying it. After all, this is similar to the kind of information that provides in its sales rankings.

I will admit that the last paragraph of the article did give me pause:

The FBI, which did not immediately return phone calls, keeps a list of security books in addition to Thomas' book, and tracks the titles through sales and distribution channels. Libraries also are monitored for activity and interest in the listed titles.

(Emphasis added-DD)

To be honest, when I read this paragraph the first thing that came to mind is how eerily similar this sounds to the story told in the Little Red Book hoax of December 2005. Of course, if all the FBI is doing is tracking the circulation trends of certain books, they can do that using and local library catalogs. If this alleged monitoring program goes well beyond those limits, then there may be genuine cause for concern.


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