Librarian Karen Lippold says Canadians should be able to do research without coming under the umbrella of the U.S. Patriot Act. ((CBC) )

Dozens of Canadian university and college libraries are changing how they arrange for their students and faculty to do online research, in part because of a U.S. law intended to detect possible terrorist activity.

The universities subscribe to RefWorks, a popular American research tool that helps academics with research, as well as with completing citations and bibliographies.

However, the U.S. Patriot Act — created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington— allows government officialsto sweep through databases, including RefWorks, as part of routine surveillance.

"It's an issue of privacy— [that's] what it comes down to," said Karen Lippold, a librarian at Memorial University in St. John's.

Conceivably, the searches of a student or faculty member doing work on a sensitive issue could be flagged and then stored in the U.S.

"The U.S. Patriot Act allows the U.S. government— without any kind of notification— to have access to people's personal information, and so the feeling was that it left people vulnerable. Their research could be looked at by the U.S. government," Lippold said.

As a solution, Memorial and a number of other universities have abandoned U.S.-based servers, and are now using facilities at the University of Toronto. Lippold said universities involved in the computer switch span the country, and include Atlantic Canadian universities as a group.

"[Users] are Canadians and they should not be having to fall under this act," Lippold said.