Thursday, October 28, 2004

When the Patriot Act Gets Too Close to Home

As a writer I have a vivid imagination. It helps when you're trying to make a plot work and your characters endure 350+ pages of nasty stuff. But there are some things my mind would prefer not imagine -- the use of the Patriot Act against my fellow writers.

Lest you believe the Patriot Act is solely used to target terrorists, a recent article in the Romance Writers Report (Nov 2004) published by the Romance Writers of America, puts that belief to rest. A multi-published writer who requested the magazine use the name 'Dilyn' was targeted by the FBI, Postal Inspectors (because of her website and email usage) and the Federal Police. Six agents raided her home before dawn, threatened to shoot her dogs and proceeded to confiscate almost everything related to her writing profession -- her computers, her writing contracts, research notes, computer disks, CD's of music she writes by, photocopier, the TV in her office, pictures off her walls, a case of paper... the list goes on. During this three hour horror, she was subjected to verbal abuse by one of the six male agents and not allowed to use the restroom without an escort.

So what did this writer do to earn the Fed's scrutiny? Was she tinkering with a dirty bomb in her basement or planning the overthrow of the government? Nothing that sinister -- she was researching Cambodia, including the history of terrorism in that country (yes, Al Qaeda is there)for an upcoming novel. To that end, she checked out books at her local library and ordered books online. She visited numerous websites to study about terrorism and landmines, which played a part in the plot. Ironically, she decided to remove the terrorism theme from her book to allow for reader's sensitivities post 9/11 even before the raid.

Has she been charged? No. Did she get her stuff back? Only the computers (they were bugged) and her disks, which were ruined. None of the rest of her belongings have been returned.

How does this relate to the Patriot Act and why should you be concerned? The warrant they served on her specifically mentioned certain books BY TITLE. Yes, the government is watching what you read and where you surf contrary to John Ashcroft's assurances.

To her credit, the author refuses to change how she conducts research. She is aware that some websites are 'flagged' and that the government runs certain email tracking programs. She does not feel she is committing a crime and will continue to exercise her right to research in a legal manner.

Yes, Big Brother is watching. For this writer, who frequently researches things like gunpowder, Irish pub bombings and the lot for my books, this is a chilling story. It's so easy to believe that it wouldn't happen to you.

Don't be so sure....