City Stalls FBI Access in Library

From The Daily News Tribune:

"Law enforcement and Newton Free Library officials were embroiled in a tense standoff last week when the city refused to let police and the FBI examine library computers without a warrant."

"Police rushed to the main library last Wednesday after it was determined that a terrorist threat to Brandeis University had been sent from a computer at the library."

"But requests to examine any of its computers were rebuffed by library Director Kathy Glick-Weil and Mayor David Cohen on the grounds that they did not have a warrant."


The FBI has a much right to use the public computers as any other patron. Keeping the FBI from the computers was absurd.

However the administration was correct to not turn over the computers themselves to the law enforcement agents not primarily because of patron privacy, but because the proper procedures were not followed. The computers should have been embargoed until such time as the proper warrant was received. That would have protected the public's privacy and prevented any evidence from possible destruction.

Lets not blow this out of proportion, a criminal act was committed facilitated by the library's computer and the library failed to take reasonable steps to secure the evidence. It sounds to me that the library administrator over-reacted to not unreasonable requests from law enforcement.

Having spent more than a decade working in an urban ER we from time to time had to obtain evidence from patients that required a search warrant. Simply talking to a judge (who we could verify was a judge) who agreed to sign the warrant for what the police sought was good enough per the hospital's counsel. I would think embargoing the computers for a day while the FBI had a typist work up the warrant would not be extreme.

The sky is not falling and the librarian acting as if it were decreases public confidence in the library. The public does not want radical militant librarians facilitating crimes.

N.B. If the library has the computers set up well there would be nothing for the FBI to find anyway.

I am wondering how you know the library did not secure the computer until a warrant was attained? I do not see that anywhere in the article.

It also appears the FBI wanted to take the computer, not just use it in the library as I think you are casually suggesting.

It said in the article that the library's IT staff member examined the computer. That is not securing the computer.

Of course the FBI wanted to take the computers, inspection and evaluation of the evidence is best performed under controlled conditions. But leaving them open to public use, or even having the library staff examine the computers will compromise the evidence, either by damaging physical evidence - perhaps fingerprints on the machine- or damaging the electionic evidence -such as overwriting the cache.

Embargoing the computers was what should have been done. Waiting for a warrant while the computers were embargoed would have been the prudent thing to do. Getting hysterical as it seems the library director and opposing the police was not the wise thing to do.

She agreed to have her information technology worker examine the computers, but said the FBI requested information about the computers without a warrant, even though they were familiar with library privacy laws.

I do not think you can jump to the conclusion that the library was examining the computer while waiting for a warrant to arrive. I think you are getting very upset for no reason yet, since you are making assumptions that are not supported by the articles that have been published so far. The articles do not say that the library looked at the computer, or did it say that the library nor the police did not protect it until a warrant arrived.

This seems to clarify that the IT worker examined the computer prior to the receipt of a warrant at the library:

She agreed to have her information technology worker examine the computers, but said the FBI requested information about the computers without a warrant...

Thus I don't feel I am jumping to any conclusion. I am not at all upset, bewildered perhaps as to why apparently rational civil servants would thwart a perfectly legal investigation, but upset no not at all, especially because I don't live there. If I did I would most certainly be upset.

The articles clearly do state that the library staff looked at the computer before the warrant arrived. Unless I am missing something and I don't feel I am.

(Please note too that I am not debating your vote of confidence in the librarian, I too applaud her need to see that the law is followed, but I belive she does not understand the law.)

I guess I feel "agreeing to have the technician" look at it with the FBI declining the offer and physically looking at the contents of a computer are not equal. I read it as she offered to look first than share, and the FBI declined deciding to wait for the warrant to remove the system. I cannot jump to the conclusion that the library actually did look at the system. If they did look before the warrant arrived, than how much is the library really trying to protect patron rights? Whether they looked or the FBI looked (before warrant), it still violates the privacy of a patron.

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