| Is Big Brother watching the books you buy or the videos you rent?
That question cannot be answered, under the USA Patriot Act.
The law, passed before the dust from Sept. 11 settled, lets government agents seek court orders to seize records "for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."
Critics have sounded a warning because such court orders cannot be challenged. Businesses are barred from telling anyone if they get one. Not even Congress can get an answer from the Justice Department on how many people are being monitored.
"It's not very different from being able to break into your home," 80-year-old Modestan Fern Rodgin said outside the Stanislaus County Library, where she had just checked out her book club's latest selection, "Ava's Man" by Rick Bragg.
"What do you gain if you give up American principles to save Amer-ica?" Rodgin asked.
For others, though, more monitoring would be fine.
Kelly Turner, a 28-year-old from Monterey, was visiting Modesto friends when she came to Starbucks, next to Barnes & Noble Booksellers on McHenry Avenue.
"I don't have a problem with (government surveillance). I don't have anything to hide," Turner said. "I wish there was more government monitoring. I want to know if somebody on my block is reading a book on how to build a bomb or if there is anyone reading 'Catcher in the Rye.' They say there's a link between that book and many serial killers."