MI Patron Info Fishing Expedition

AshtabulaGuy writes "The following story was referenced on MICHLIB-L on the morning of July 6th. Caleb Marker, a law student clerking with Flory & Associates (a law firm in Okemos, Michigan), has been requesting information about patrons from libraries under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Marker's expressed reason in response to the uproar created was that he wanted to create a profile of library users. Library directors in Michigan have been fighting the request and have been seeking counsel as to how FOIA may conflict with Michigan's patron privacy laws. Read the story at The Detroit News "

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WTF

>Marker says he’s trying to gather research to create a profile of library users.
Profile? What kind of profile?
The article then goes on to say, “I’m not asking for private information, like what books they check out,� he said. “I’m only asking for information that you could get in a telephone book or on the Internet.�
So what is he trying to get? The home phone number and address of patrons?
A law firm should not let law students talk to the newspaper. An attorney should be representing the firm. You never know what dumb thing a law student is going to say or do.

21 year old law student?

Wouldn't you be pre-law if you are an undergrad? I googled the name (to get a profile of him which he seems to approve of) and it looks like he might be the same Caleb Marker who is still an undergrad at MSU. Or is it different at other universities?

hmmm...

My question is why no one in the Michigan legislature looked at how the FOIA and Library Privacy Laws would affect each other. If the Library privacy laws were created as an exception to a FOIA-type law, then the case should be pretty open and shut for libraries.

I do wonder what sort of profile they are creating and why. Why do they need to know who has a library card? It's a bit odd.

Re:21 year old law student?

If he is an undergrad he would not be considered a law student. A law student is someone in a graduate law program.
To prcatice law you have to graduate from an ABA accredited law school. These are all graduate programs.
The guy in the story may be an undergrad that is pre-law and the reporter put him down as a law student. I have little faith in what I read in the newspapers without checking the facts.

Houston, we have a problem...

This is where freedom of information principles test us. As librarians we are not ethically supposed to look behind requests for information to ask why information is sought or what purpose it is sought for (hence all the hue and cry over Library Awareness and USA PATRIOT Act). In this case, what seems like a simple request for information that would otherwise be granted as a matter of course is treated by librarians with a different standard where we want to know what is behind the request and why the request was initiated. I agree that this is messy. The request in and of itself does sure seem interesting. It is also unclear what purpose the information is being requested for. I agree that such may be an attempt as mentioned in the article for mass spamming. Why I have a feeling somebody is trying to "establish a class" is somewhat odd, though...

Re:WTF

Amen to the last paragraph.

Re:21 year old law student?

I used to be a newspaper reporter. I would no be surprised if any reporter anywhere confused pre-law and law school. Education for journalists focuses heavily on how to write and I think does not talk about the world around them all that much. The folks at the Detroit News are rather sharp, though. I have a feeling the student may very well be on a fast track program straight from his bachelor's into his JD. I have seen such things before.

Simply illegal to release the records

Michigan's laws seem to be quite clear on this. The Library Privacy Act makes it a crime to release the records without the patron's permission or a court order. It specifically notes that Michigan's FOIA does not apply to library records.


This kid will make a fine lawyer. We do so need more lawyers.

Re:21 year old law student?

You don't have to graduate from an ABA accredited law school to practice law in most states, however that is by far the most common way. However certain states allow clerking, self study, or even foreign legal education (NY is an example - it allows a foreign degree holder with a foundation in English common law to sit the exam).


However holders of ABA accredited JDs can sit the exam in every state. Then again what can you do with such a degree other than be a lawyer. How disappointing that must be.

Re:21 year old law student?

Don't forget, information found through Google that seems relevant doesn't make it correct. I searched the student directory for MSU and found an evening law student named Caleb Marker. So, as far as his law student status, he sounds legit.Nancy

Re:Simply illegal to release the records

Good lawyers are always needed. We are full up of nitwit lawyers. If this kid had talked to a law librarian he might not have made this mistake.

More on Flory & Associates

I love that this "law student" was unaware before he started his fishing expedition that the law does not require libraries to comply with his "request."

What the Detroit News reporter does not disclose (or did not bother to research) is that Michael Flory (the law student's boss) is the President of Michigan Federation of Young Republicans (see link here). He has a BS from Siena Heights College and a JD from Wayne State University. Flory & Associates is described at the MFYR site as an "elder law advocacy firm." Why an "elder law advocacy firm" would want library patron records to create profiles is a mystery.

The Detroit News reporter could have easily included this information in her article by looking up Michael Flory on Martindale Hubbell and Google. It took me less than ten minutes.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

>Michael Flory (the law student's boss) is the President of Michigan Federation of Young Republicans
What relevance to the story is this?
>He has a BS from Siena Heights College and a JD from Wayne State University.
Why do we care where his boss went to college?
I looked on Google and found that Michael like cheese doodles and lemon jello. Why was that not mentioned??

Re:More on Flory & Associates

>Why do we care where his boss went to college?

For the same reason that he seems to care about directing his law clerks to harass libraries to collect patron information.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

>The Detroit News reporter could have easily included this information in her article by looking up Michael Flory on Martindale Hubbell and Google.
But under your own admission this has nothing to do with the story.

>For the same reason that he seems to care about directing his law clerks to harass libraries to collect patron information.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

You're probably right. Maybe what I wrote was irrelevant. I've been known to write irrelevant things. My humble apologies for expressing an opinion in which were included some apparently irrelevant details.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

Since he is a law student why did you jump to the conclusion that his fishing expedition was related to his employment rather than his scholastic pursuits? Nowhere in the article does it mention that his actions were undertaken at the behest of the law firm or any of its partners. The reporter also jumped to that conclusion in her article. The teacher interviewed was concerned that the law firm was seeking that information. The story also refers to Marker’s request. The article is poorly written and lacks a clear statement of the origin of the request: Marker or the firm.


I can fathom no reason why a law firm would want a profile of library patrons. I find it remarkably hard to believe that any practicing lawyer would direct his staff to make requests prohibited by state law. I can however believe that a misguided student would make requests such as these.


I’ll grant you that the reporter failed to research her work sufficiently. However the information you provided is neither germane nor helpful. You however seem to think that since the lawyer is a Republican there is some nefarious purpose. Your comment that we should know more about the law firm’s partners “For the same reason that he seems to care about directing his law clerks to harass libraries to collect patron information,� is yet another unfounded leap you have made. There is no evidence presented in the article that Flory directed Marker’s action.


Why you felt the need to research the story further and spend 10 minutes on martindale.com by your own admission is beyond me. As librarians the public trusts us to safeguard the information they give us. It is our responsibility to answer patron queries to the best of our ability. It is improper to interrogate or investigate the patron making the request. In this case the appropriate answer is that the records are protected by law and may not be released. While I must assume you don’t work at any of the libraries involved you took it upon yourself to investigate who you thought made the request. As a librarian that offends me. Did you also use LexisNexis to find out if he has a mortgage, if he is married, where he lives, what assets he has. I can only wonder why you felt the need to do an investigation into the character, reputation and educational background of someone who would considered a patron had they made the request in person. It seems that you have let your political views cloud your professional judgment. You found it necessary to report to those that read LISNews that the alleged requestor is a Republican. Would you have reported about a UCLA grad who worked for the ACLU? You should be ashamed of yourself.


Has anyone considered that this indeed might be a student’s attempt to see if the libraries in his state actually follow the law and restrict access to patron records. Perhaps the student mislead the reporter, there is no burden on anyone to tell the truth to journalists and the journalist in this case did a remarkably poor job of presenting the facts. I wonder how many libraries simply sent the information along. Now that would be an interesting project for any student.


I have written Ms. Lee, that journalist that filed the story to clarify the law firm's role. Should she not be responsive I will email the attorney. I am confident that the law firm will not be involved in requesting the records, but simply be where the requestor, a college student, is employed. Had he worked at McDonalds would you have listed Ray Kroc's political affiliation and the schools he attended.


Shame on you for muckraking, shame on you for failing to remain objective.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

I see your point. I probably should have thought about the situation more carefully before I jumped to conclusions.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

Damn, I can usually start an argument in an empty room.


Well, we will find out of the reporter replies to my email. Then we will know for certain if the firm or the kid was behind this nonsense.

Balance. State local FOI freedom of information

What our cities' public libraries need to do is give greater consideration to the balance involving state local FOI freedom of information. Regrettably, guidelines of the american library association approach state local FOI as an imposition on our cities' public libraries where it needs to look at state local FOI as a freedom that our cities' public libraries should advocate for the legitimately public documentation, grey literature if you will in balance with the related concerns for documentation not public.See alsohttp://listserv.syr.edu/archives/foi-l.html

How to review your favorite cities' public libs.

You use your favorite cities' public libraries. You work for your favorite cities' public libraries. You advocate for unions collective bargaining labor relations at your favorite cities' public libraries. You have concerns about the future development or current practices our your favorite cities' public libraries. Get background information. Ask for the public documentation of your favorite cities' public libraries. Ask for board minutes. Ask for curatorial and departmental reports to your favorite cities' public libraries leadership. Ask for studies. Ask for consultants reports and studies. Check that the sunshine open meeting laws are followed. Check that state local FOI freedom of information public records laws are followed. Persuade our cities' public libraries leadership to be willing and to be even inviting of review of their leadership activities.

Grey literature.

Grey literaturehttp://greynet.org

Re:Houston, we have a problem...

It's not a request for information that would otherwise be granted as a matter of course. It's a request for identifying personal information on large numbers of people based on nothing more than the fact that they use the public library.

We're also supposed to protect reader privacy. This is not in contradiction to protecting freedom to access information; it's _part_ of protecting freedom to access information.

Federal FOIA creates an exception to protect personal privacy or company trade secrets; it's a perfectly common and standard experience to get a document in which some names or identifying personal information have been blacked out. This joker is apparently looking ONLY for the kind of protected personal information that he couldn't get under Federal FOIA without providing a very good reason why he should get it. Resisting this fishing expedition or asking for a reason for his request (a better reason than "creating a profile of library users" with no reason or purpose for the profile offered) is utterly consistent with basic principles of library service, not "messy" at all.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

The request went out on the firm's letterhead. While it is still not clear what the firm's involvement in this request included, the reporter had that information at hand when she wrote the article.You, on the other hand, attacked the reporter without having all of the facts, something you claimed that she was guilty of doing. Care to post a retraction?

Re:More on Flory & Associates

Who are you asking to post a retraction? If you're asking me, what do you want me to retract?

Re:More on Flory & Associates

mdoneil

Re:More on Flory & Associates

Being anonymous it is impossible to find any authority in what you write. You claim that the request went out on the law firm's letterhead, yet we have only your word and frankly that is not worth much when you post anonymously.


I did not attack the reporter; I simply criticized her poor writing. I did write Ms. Lee and ask for clarification. I have had no response as of this writing. I have left a message at the law firm and I await a return call. I see no need to post a retraction, I have nothing to retract. Ms. Lee wrote the article so poorly it left readers wondering about the originator of the request. If anyone should post anything it would be the reporter who failed to clarify the issue in her article.


Even if it proves true that the student did make the request under the color of authority of the law firm the article was still unclear. Journalists have a duty to be objective and completely report the story as best they are able. This simply was not done in this case.

Simply amazing!

I was clearing out my filtered email and I found a response from Ms. Lee. She relates that the requests were indeed on the letterhead of the firm and were signed by Caleb Marker.


I will call the attorney's office again tomorrow to see if they wish to comment. I really would like to know why anyone would want to compile such a list.


I certainly hope Mr. Marker did this on his own without the knowledge of the members of the firm. If not I certainly hope that someone files a complaint with the Michigan Bar.



In the interest of fairness I must note that Ms. Lee replied to my email early in the morning, but I had to manually retrieve it from my spam trap. I had added the detnews.com domain but their mail is filtered through another server and was stopped by my filter. Ms. Lee's response was timely.

Re:More on Flory & Associates

Whatever. I couldn't care less whether you believe it or not. The fact is that a letter went out to over 80 libraries on the law firm's letterhead. You can choose to ignore the facts if you want.

As far as the article, the reporter accurately reported the information that was available at the time it was written. Those facts include:
The letter went out on letterhead from the law firm under Mr. Marker's name. When Mr. Marker was contacted by libraries which received the request, he indicated that the request was on behalf of a client for the firm. That information was posted to a public list for Michigan libraries.

The reporter clearly stated that Mr. Marker made the request representing himself as an employee of the law firm. You state "Ms. Lee wrote the article so poorly it left readers wondering about the originator of the request." Apparently, you are the only one who is wondering because it's quite clear who made the request. If someone from your workplace sends out a letter on company letterhead, the assumption is that the action is done at the behest of your place of employment. I think the reporter gave the law firm a break by clearly stating that the request was being made by a specific employee. Many reporters would have simply reported that the request was made by the law firm.

As for this statement:

"Journalists have a duty to be objective and completely report the story as best they are able. This simply was not done in this case."

I challenge you to show how this story was not reported objectively and completely with the facts that were available at the time. You are quick to judge even when you don't know what you are talking about.

I may regret continuing this discussion

I am not ignoring the facts, the reporter failed to make them clear in her original article. You state that the facts included in the article:
1) The letter went out on letterhead from the law firm under Mr. Marker's name.
2) When Mr. Marker was contacted by libraries which received the request, he indicated that the request was on behalf of a client for the firm.

neither of which are contained in the article. You state “[T]he reporter accurately reported the information that was available at the time it was written..� Which is inaccurate. I have read and re-read the article and that information is nowhere to be found. You further assert that: “That information was posted to a public list for Michigan libraries.� I must assume you mean your two points above. It may have indeed been posted on a list but the reporter did not include it in her article.


You challenge me to show how the story was not reported objectively and completely. In fact I don’t have to do that as you present facts that were not included in the article, numbers one and two above, that were not reported in the article. You further assert that these facts were available when the article was written. In fact the article reports something completely different than your second assertion. The article states “Marker says he’s trying to gather research to create a profile of library users.� If indeed your assertions are true, and I have no doubt at this time that they are, then ipso facto the article which differs from them was not reported objectively and completely.


Res Ipsa Loquitor



I’m not certain why you are arguing about this. I am offended that a law student acting on his own or on behalf of an attorney would make such an outrageous request. I simply noted that the article lacked clarity. An opinion I still hold. There was a great deal of information that I consider superfluous that could have been omitted in deference to the facts of the matter. Perhaps it was edited for space, but that still remains under the control of the newspaper not the reader. I must rely on the newspaper to tell the complete story and not assume I am intimately familiar with librarian listservs or endowed with psychic powers.


However I am glad you signed up for an account and are not posting anonymously. It is through reasoned debate and dialog that we all learn.

Re:I may regret continuing this discussion

"You state that the facts included in the article:
1) The letter went out on letterhead from the law firm under Mr. Marker's name.
2) When Mr. Marker was contacted by libraries which received the request, he indicated that the request was on behalf of a client for the firm."

No, I didn't say those facts were in the article. I said that those were the facts that were known at the time the article was written. That information was known to the reporter when she wrote the article. The reporter, or the editor, chose not to include those specific points in the article. I can't speak for the reporter on why they were not included but in my mind, they don't detract from the objectivity of the article. Would it have changed the focus of the article to say that the request went out on the firm's letterhead?

As I noted before, I think the reporter gave the firm a break by focusing on Mr. Marker's specific involvement and played down any potential role that the firm may have had. She could have reported on the use of the firm's letterhead and Mr. Marker's comments that he was doing research for a client of the firm. But I think she had sniffed out that something was not quite legit. with Mr. Marker and his little project. By noting Mr. Marker's affiliation with the law firm while not getting into all of the specifics, she provided the law firm with the ability to distance itself in case Mr. Marker wasn't operating with their authority.

"The article states “Marker says he’s trying to gather research to create a profile of library users.� If indeed your assertions are true, and I have no doubt at this time that they are, then ipso facto the article which differs from them was not reported objectively and completely."

This is not inconsistent with point 2. Again, while Mr. Marker was telling libraries that he was working on behalf of the firm, the reporter did not emphasize that point and instead focused on Mr. Marker's statements. Mr. Marker told the paper "Marker says he’s trying to gather research to create a profile of library users." which is consistent with the information that was being requested in the FOIA request.

Why the disagreement? Because I think you are so focused on defending your initial position that I think you are failing to see how the reporter, while not providing every last detail, provided a more accurate assessment of the situation, than if every little point had been included in the article. I know it's a subtle point but it's the difference between good reporting and simply regurgitating the facts.

I was right, I regret it. :)

Really this arguing back and forth is going nowhere, and doing neither of us any good as we seem to be on the same side of the issue, that the Marker fellow is a putz.


Ms. Lee corresponded with me again today, which was a delightfully nice thing for her to do as she had no obligation to do so. I may think her original article lacked clarity, but she certainly provided it in the followup emails.


Ms. Lee noted that Mr. Marker is no longer employed with the Flory firm. Ms. Lee noted that when she called him he would not comment except to relate that his change in employment was not due to his FOI request or Ms. Lee's article.


I am jumping to my own conclusions on that.

It is obvious that we will not share the same opinion of the article, but I do hold Ms. Lee in high regard as she corresponded with me about her story when she had no obligation to do so. However, I do have a bit of constructive criticim to make about your posting style. Please don't take this the wrong way, but your posts are very hard to read. You may find the following helpful:


Paragraph tags: To start a new paragraph use the greater than and less than signs with a "p" in between (any example I type would fail to appear because it would start a new paragraph).


Line break tags: similarly a line break, or carriage return is denoted by the same greater and less than symbols with the letters "br" betwixt.


There are others for bold and italics and such that I sure you can pick up in seconds if you find some good material about HTML tags.


I enjoy and I am sure others enjoy reading your commentary. Well reasoned discourse is the cornerstone of learning.

Re:I was right, I regret it. :)

Yes, I didn't realize I needed to code my responses. We can leave the debate where it is at. I sure has been beaten down at this point.

Re:I was right, I regret it. :)

If Caleb Marker is no longer employed by the law firm, then something fishy is going on. I left a phone message at the law firm asking Mr. Flory to return my call so I could ask, as a citizen and as a library board member, what was behind the request. A half hour later I received a call from Caleb Marker (or at least someone purporting to be Caleb Marker).

I asked the person why the request for library patron information had been made. He replied, "I can't tell you; it's secret." That's all he would say.

Mr. Marker has run unsuccessfully for East Lansing's city council. I suspect that he believes there's no such thing as bad publicity and he's pulling a stunt to build name recognition for the future. Let's hope it's only that innocent.

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