Privacy rights and public safety issues Simplified

Anonymous Patron writes "David Cohen, mayor of Newton, Massachusetts and Kathy Glick-Weil, director of the Newton Free Library, offer op-ed page acticle in the February 16, 2006 issue of The Boston Globe. "Let us say, in no uncertain terms, that our insistence on a warrant did not put public safety at risk. If the federal authorities needed immediate access to those computers to protect people's safety, the FBI and US attorney's office would have cited their specific authority to take them without a warrant, and we would have cooperated fully. At no time did these agencies indicate that this was necessary.""


I don't believe a word of that. If it were that urgent they police would have simply arrested them. All of the accounts I read within 48 hours of the incident said the library director was out of control.

Me too, I'm glad I slept in though its quite late.

Personal emails sent from a personal computer sure.

Personal emails sent from a work computer no - the company can read your email, after all it is their computer and they are paying you.

Personal email sent from a public computer (such as a library) not at all. Some one could stand behind you and read it while you type.

If you want your email private then you either have to pay someone like your ISP, or run your own mail server (which I do).

You are right that we will never know for sure, and we were lucky that this was some jerk playing games rather than some terrorist. It probably always will be that way, terrorists generally don't give email updates about their plans.

I am enjoying this discussion.

I am glad to see you have a view and can articulate your thoughts.

I wish we can learn more about the Newton situation but everyone (library, city, FBI, etc.) will want the minimum revealed to the public.

We will never know for sure, because the articles never went into enough detail. But, it appeared the library secured the computers with the FBI present and no one (library or FBI) gained access.

I was not suggesting the policies trumped the law, but the library staff (and city officials) were trained in what the FBI could do and how to respond, according to the older articles about Newton Library. They were prepared.

Libraries protect intellectual interests, so I cannot think of a reason why drug use falls into that category. Seems like a poor counter to the argument.

Do you not consider personal emails private, unless a warrant is issued?

OK, I should have been more clear. If it was clear the danger had not passed - and I assume when the police first arrived it was not yet clear- I would have taken the computer to assure that it was not changed or damaged in any way until a warrant to search it arrived.

Policies are great but policies cannot cover everything. I can't fathom they have a policy for the FBI seizing computers under exigent circumstances. It is important to also note that policies do not have the force of law and certainly do not trump law.

I'll keep patron circulation records, records of patron questions, patron names and addresses secret, but you can't extend that blanket to everything a patron does in a library. If you see a patron shooting heroin in the library bathroom is that a patron record, or do you call the cops (or just leave well enough alone and ask them to not leave sharps around). There has to be a line and what someone does in a public computer area cannot by any strech of the imagination be private.

I think I do understand your point, and I know I am in the minority among librarians, but I think they should have given the FBI all assistance they could.

I don't consider patron email to non-library staff a library record. Granted there were other patrons than the ersatz mad bomber using the computer and their privacy is a concern too, but by its very nature a public computer in a public library -especially when sending email which by its nature as well cannot be private insofar as it is sent to another over public networks.

The content from dailyKos was not specifically what I was addressing, but it did reference several past news articles that showed the city and library had policies in place for these situations.

Why would you have just taken the computer? The authorities already have stated that if people were in immediate danger they would have done that without a warrant, but it was determined that the danger had passed.

That was the article (that google had it cached and I couldn't find it elsewhere in fee based databases from FSU or my library is another story altogether).

It says" He said Glick-Weil was told "we were dealing with a potential terrorism plot" but became "close to uncontrollable, saying that we had no right to be there."

Out of control, uncontrollable ... six of one half a dozen of the other.

We are not going to agree on this because you agree with the librarian and I don't agree with anyone there. If I were the person in charge I would have just taken the damn things and arrested the librarian if she got in the way. I guess that is why the FBI didn't snap me right up after my undergrad.

But what they are doing now is certainly damage control. ( I didn't go to the dailyKos site becuase I really think it is a bunch of crap. I've been there before and it is just too strange for me to put any stock in what that nutjob says.)

The above comment was by ME, but the web site did not recognize my log-in.

If this is the article you are talking about, the mention of "uncontrollable" was only made by one of the agents, who appeared to be frustrated. That does not appear to be a very unbiased opinion by that agent, plus he/she gives no examples. On the statement alone, I don't think I can chastise the director.

In a related note, here is some information from a blog that has investigated the history of this library and discovered that this library and city had specific policies in place for this situation.\ that were followed.

Unfortunately only the first few paragraphs of the article "City Stalls FBI Access in Library" are available online. If you would like to read the part about the library director being out of control you will have to either pay $4.95, or find someone who has access to the article. I tried various databases but my Newsbank subscription only covers the Boston papers not the Daily News Tribune. Another website for the article does not even bring up the story when the headline is searched.

It was the paragraph after the one in which the police officer said he was disgusted by the library director. If I do come across it or if someone else has and forwards it to me I shall post that excerpt here.

I do not recall any of the articles saying the director was "out of control". Everything written said the director and the mayor held their ground until the warrant arrived. To me that is not "out of control" but very much in control of their organization and its guiding principles and regulations.

The director and mayor were aware of the laws that said provide a warrant. The FBI could have taken the computer without a warrant if they felt people were in immediate danger. The one article I read quoted an agent that said they never felt at that point in time anyone was in trouble, so they waited for a warrant.

Personal email sent from a public computer (such as a library) not at all. Some one could stand behind you and read it while you type.

I think there is a great difference between standing over someone's shoulder, and hacking the contents of a computer to discover past dialogues. I still believe, and hope our government does as well, in personal rights. You want to see, get a warrant. Of course, in cases of immediate danger, I understand other actions may need to be taken.

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