It Could Happen To You

October 24th, 2004 · 9 Comments
by Booksquare

We admit it — we expect the worst and hope for the best. When the USA Patriot Act was passed, however, we pretty much stopped at expecting the worst. Don’t get us wrong, modern crime requires modern law enforcement techniques (hence states trying to figure out how to handle drugged drivers…statutes only cover drunk drivers). But when major legislation is passed with no debate and no consideration, it terrifies us. Especially when it’s passed in a state of heightened emotions.

We’ve talked about librarians and their opposition to section 215 of the Act. We find it disturbing that our records can be subpoenaed without our knowledge (nor can librarians even mention that they provided any sort of information — we are big on accountability, and feel this gag rule increases the potential for abuse); we find it even more disturbing that our reading choices, website surfing choices, or research paths could lead to an early morning raid.

Such a raid happened to a multi-published women’s fiction writer — her research lead her down a path that raised flags for anti-terrorism experts. Due to ongoing investigations, the author is not able to offer much in the way of specifics, though she does mention the research trajectory that lead to her particular raid. Her description of the incident is particularly disturbing:

The raid took place last fall, pre-dawn, and it laste three hours. They banged at my front door first, damaged it coming in, displayed weapons and threatened to kill my dogs. After that, imagine everything you’ve ever seen on TV, only worse.

Just as the map is not the territory, research is not an intent to act. We freely admit that we once spent an entire afternoon looking up various ways to blow up a car; we have no intention of ever doing so (though, if we were so inclined, our old Fiat was an excellent candidate). It was research. Another day, cranky after a contest judge marked us down because our heroine carried the “wrong” gun, we studied guns from around the world. We ended our day satisfied the judge was full of it. If you’ve ever done online (or, heck, using books) research, this will sound familiar to you:

As far as my Web surfing, I went dozens of places. Many were for non-terrorist aspects of my book, but a few were for gathering specific terrorist information…

Post-raid, this author is working with a criminal defense attorney (ah, the fees!) on her defense. She states in an interview that much of her work and office equipment was taken; when her computers were returned, they were “bugged.” Many items remain in the possession of the government. She’s seen the search warrant, and it specifically discusses the books she’d purchased or borrowed from the library — by title.

Maybe it’s us, but we have a hard time believing actual terrorists are buying how-to manuals on the Internet, using legitimate credit cards, shipping to their home addresses, and then disguising all of this by writing entire works of fiction. We appreciate the enormity of fighting terrorism, but we suspect this sort of activity is going to have an unfortunate side effect: law-abiding citizens will mask their online activities in a desperate attempt to maintain privacy. There are ways to protect yourself from prying eyes — something tells us real terrorists already know these tricks (unless they’re crying out to get caught). Focusing on innocent research won’t lead to convictions, nor will it make the world safer for you and me.

File Under: Square Pegs

9 responses so far ↓

  • toni // Oct 24, 2004 at 9:25 pm

    Can you post the link? I believe the title of the article here was supposed to be that link, but it isn’t functioning. Thanks much.

  • booksquare // Oct 24, 2004 at 9:42 pm

    Fixed — thanks for letting me know. Sorry!!!

  • Brenda Coulter // Oct 25, 2004 at 10:29 am

    Booksquare, I’m a little surprised that you have linked to an article that was photocopied from a professional journal and posted on the internet without any mention of where it came from and whether permission had been obtained from the copyright holder.

    As a member of Romance Writers of America, I read this article just the other day in our monthly publication, Romance Writers Report. Yes, what happened to that author is very disturbing. But I’m never pleased to see anyone, particularly fellow writers, playing fast and loose with copyright laws.

    Perhaps permission was granted to reprint the article, and the individual who posted it on the internet simply neglected to mention that fact. I hope that was the case.

  • Jeanne Ketterer // Oct 25, 2004 at 11:25 am

    What I don’t understand is why haven’t other writers gone through this? (or at least we know of) Crime fiction, action/adventure, suspense, etc.? Is it the author they’re interested in or really someone else?


  • Lorra // Oct 25, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    My comment is about defending your good name in case the law, or lawyers, come acalling.

    Say, for example, you write about something that is very, very true, but it is about an institution with way more money than you’re ever going to see. What happens when that institution engages the services of a huge law firm to sue your little self. (The government is an example of a very, very big institution.)

    First: You’d better be right about what you say and able to prove it in a court of law. (Got that covered as long as people don’t plan on committing perjury.)

    Second: Your homeowners policy (and probably renter’s policies – not sure) has a rider, that can be purchased separately and isn’t all that expensive. It provides about 20 mill to defend against sthose aforementioned schools of sharks.

    Third: Call your insurance agent BEFORE you publish anything that can come back and bite you in the rear end.

    It sure beats living in a shelter, ’cause even if you’re right, they’re bigger!!

  • booksquare // Oct 25, 2004 at 9:35 pm


    You’re absolutely right to question the copyright issue — the original poster did receive permission to post the article, with certain caveats. She followed her instructions, and I did, too. As you know, copyright is very important to me, and this was a consideration.

    Subsequent to this, however, there were other issues raised (let’s just call this a right hand, left hand situation). I, and others, have asked for clarification because it appears there isn’t clear policy on the issue. Not abnormal in this situation, and it doesn’t change the gist of the story. If it turns out that there is a copyright issue with source, I’ll address that according to the final resolution.

  • Brenda Coulter // Oct 26, 2004 at 3:44 am

    Thanks, Booksquare. You’re a class act.


  • Kate Rothwell // Oct 26, 2004 at 6:48 am

    I’m going back to bed until November 2.

  • Kate Rothwell // Oct 26, 2004 at 7:16 am

    but before I pull the covers over my head, I’ll put a link to your link and to your link’s link. I figure we’ll all go down together if RWA goes after us. I guess they don’t call us Romance Rioters for nothing — bwahahaha we’re SCARY PEOPLE.