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Chicago Sun-Times - Obama Fears 'Big Brother' Over Our Shoulders

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Chicago Sun-Times - Obama Fears 'Big Brother' Over Our Shoulders


If the U.S. government resorts to rifling through library records without a search warrant, libraries will no longer be sanctuaries of learning where people can freely think and read, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama told the American Library Association Saturday.

Obama said he is working diligently to make sure the country has a Patriot Act that helps track down terrorists without trampling on civil liberties. He told the applauding crowd at McCormick Place he hopes the U.S. Senate will follow the U.S. House's lead by passing a provision that would require federal agents to obtain a search warrant before going through library records and e-mails.

That way people can visit libraries without the fear of "Big Brother" peering over their shoulders, he said.

"This is an issue that Washington always tries to make into an either-or proposition," the first-term Democrat said. " 'Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles.' But I don't believe in either-or. I believe in both, and I think we can do both. I think when we pose the choice as either-or, it is asking too little of us and it assumes too little about Americans."

The House voted a week ago to sunset a Patriot Act provision that allows for searches of library records. Republicans joined the effort in defiance of President Bush.

But U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales and his prosecutors around the country are hoping to reverse that decision in a House-Senate conference committee -- even though they note they have never, in the three years since the act has been passed, requested anyone's library records.

'Window to a larger world'

On Saturday, Obama, citing the struggle to keep literary classics like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Catcher in the Rye" on library shelves over the years, applauded librarians for remaining on the front lines in the fight for privacy and freedom.

He criticized hard-liners, comparing them to dictators and governments throughout history who wanted to squash free thinking.

"The library represents a window to a larger world, a place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward and the human story forward," Obama said. "And that's the reason why since ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books."

Obama also spoke about the need to raise the educational bar and increase reading activity during his 20-minute speech. While describing the challenges parents face in getting children to pick up a book in a video- and DVD-age, Obama took a swipe at Bush.

"Our kids aren't just seeing these temptations at home, they're seeing them everywhere. Whether it's their friend's house or the people they see on television or a general culture that glorifies anti-intellectualism, so that we have a president that brags about getting Cs. It trickles down, that attitude," Obama said.

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