Feds Order Public Libraries
To Destroy CDs -
Censorship Fears Grow
By John Woolfolk
San Jose Mercury News

A recent federal order for libraries to destroy copies of a public water supply database is raising new concerns about how far authorities will go to restrict information in the name of national security.
Critics say ordering libraries to destroy public records goes beyond controversial efforts to purge sensitive information from government Web sites and raises the specter of boundless censorship.
"It is very troublesome," said Prue Adler, associate executive director of the Association of Research Libraries. "It's not a direction libraries are comfortable with."
There were no reports of librarians refusing the order, but it has drawn protest from coast to coast.
"As a librarian, I feel we should have freedom of information," said San Jose State University librarian Sue Kendall, who grudgingly cut up the school's copy of the CD-ROM database. "That's what makes our country great."
At issue is an obscure electronic database, "Source-Area Characteristics of Large Public Surface-Water Supplies in the Conterminous United States," issued by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999.
As part of a move to "scrub" government Web sites for sensitive information in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the USGS decided the CDs also posed a security threat.
Federal officials on Oct. 12 ordered all 335 libraries nationwide that received the discs "to destroy all copies."
"Librarians whose job is to make information public certainly questioned that," said Francis Buckley Jr., superintendent of documents at the government printing office, who issued the order. "But documents we send out are still the property of the government, and if we ask for a document to be withdrawn, it should be."
The government occasionally recalls publications when they are found to contain errors or become outdated, but Buckley couldn't recall any pulled for security reasons.
USGS hydrologist Glenn Patterson said the CD was compiled to help those researching improvements in water supply safety, but it also could help terrorists.
While it contained no analysis of vulnerable points of the system, it documented locations of such critical infrastructure as intake pipes, Patterson said. The USGS may later issue a more limited version, he said.
"Sometimes, we have to recognize that there's a security interest in being more restrictive," Patterson said.
No one knew of any researcher whose work was jeopardized by the order, but librarians and others cited a host of concerns.
Because authorities haven't specified what constitutes a security threat, there is a worry more orders will follow.
"I think the concern is what else the government would want us to return," said John Creaser, who oversees the University of California-Berkeley's earth sciences and map library.
Others question the threat posed by the CD, which seemed to contain no real secrets but merely compiled information already published by others.
What's more, the order may not be fully effective.
Authorities conceded there's no guarantee bootlegged copies of the CD aren't still out there.
"This just a cosmetic answer to a very difficult situation," Kendall said.

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