Police Confront Librarian, Librarian Demands Search Warrant

Judith Flint, a children's librarian for Kimball Public Library, was getting ready for her story time when the police walked in and demanded access to the data on the library's public computers. She told them that's be okay as long as they had a search warrant. When the police said they didn't need a warrant to take the computers, the confrontation got heated.

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you're in a PUBLIC building: public, not private...

[Caldwell-Stone:] "Now, all of a sudden, since you used that computer, your information is exposed to law enforcement and can be used in ways that (it) wasn't intended.'"

then buy your own computer. stay in your private residence. don't go out in public. wear a paper bag over your head; wear baggies over your hands. don't touch anything. shave of all your body hair. don't use the public restroom, or do, but keep a bag handy to take everything with you.

this is life. if you share equipment with others, and they break the law, you could suffer. tell your friends not to drink or carry drugs in your car.

maybe we should just remove the word "Public" from the public libraries because people don't seem to understand what that word means.

Good for them

My earlier comment in this thread stands. The only significant difference is that this article makes it clear that the library staff did embargo the computers so that they could not be manipulated prior to the warrant being obtained.

Now, I am no expert on Vermont law, but in Florida a warrant can be obtained fairly quickly when a good reason (probable cause) can be quickly and clearly demonstrated to the court. Since these are public computers the bar is a bit lower than if they were searching someone's house or car.

It seems the librarian was asked by the police to turn over the computers, she said a warrant will be needed and closed the computers off from public use until the warrant could be provided.

While the need for a warrant to access public computers, and the idea that web usage histories stored on public computers may be patron records is certainly open to debate (and I believe that public means just that and that they are not confidential patron records, anymore than someone seeing you carry a book to the checkout would be make that title a confidential patron record).
Obtaining an order from the Court for a specific, forensic examination certainly obviates the need for post examination motions, but if it is indeed required for a public computer has yet to be decided by any court. (If anyone knows of a decision that might set precedent please let me know). The Vermont Statute §31 (19) records relating to the identity of library patrons or the identity of library patrons in regard to the circulation of library materials; (from michie.com)
The new Act does seem on its face to make one's internet browsing history exempt from disclosure, but it also seems to make it illegal for the library staff to call the police if they see someone murdering another patron if one broadly interprets the term 'library records'. If one interprets the plain meaning of library records to those created and maintained by the library - a completely reasonable interpretation I believe, browsing history, and murder for that matter would not be library records.

The part about the librarian being short and the police being tall is simply pointless and demonstrates poor journalism by attempting to insert an us vs. big brother theme into the article.

Library records are not public records

Library computers are not public computers - they're owned and operated by a government agency for the benefit of library users in the community. All 50 states have laws or attorney generals' opinions recognizing the confidential nature of library records and exempting those records from disclosure under public records laws. Library records are not, most emphatically, public records that are free to be mined at will by law enforcement.

Moreover, the only difference between a circulation record and a browsing record is that one is about one's use of print resources while the other is about one's use of electronic resources.

The principle remains the same - what one reads and views in the library is private information, to be kept confidential as a matter of law and ethics until law enforcement makes the appropriate showing before a judge and obtains a court order.

So they got a warrent

The polcie tried to intimidate the librarian. They lost. They went a got a warrent, just like it says they should do in the Constitution. That should have been the end of the story, except I want to know why they didn't get the warrent to begin with, and why it took one or more judges to grant the warrent after a long delay. Maybe their case wasn't as strong as they thought, and like the librarian, the judge wouldn't play along with their attempts to short sheet the law?

R. Lee Hadden (These are my own opinions!)

You are incorrect & I never suggested they were public.

Your statement Moreover, the only difference between a circulation record and a browsing record is that one is about one's use of print resources while the other is about one's use of electronic resources. is incorrect and the difference is remarkably significant.

Library records are those created and maintained by the library for a specific purpose. Patron account information, books checked out, fines, reserves - those are created and maintained by the library for a specific purpose, user identifiable, and thus exempt from disclosure.

The number of people through the door, the number of times War and Peace has been checked out, the number of reference questions answered last month - those are created and maintained by the library but not user identifiable and thus not exempt.

Browsing history, browser cache, notes on slips of paper left on the tables, these are neither created nor maintained by the library, and although they may be user identifiable they are not exempt.

The new Vermont law discusses but does not clarify what a patron transaction record is. Since browsing the internet is not a patron transaction in the sense that checking out a book or asking a reference question, logging into a database with your library card, those are transactions. The user browses the Internet on his or her own, not involving a library staff member and this not a transaction. Thus the web sites that a patron visited are available for public inspection insofar as they are not transactions.

If one goes to the extreme of calling them transacations then the computer would have to be completely wiped clean between each patron. A patron could not sit at a computer and see what the patron before searched for, they could not see previous site history, the browser cache, cookies, reg entries, documents created. Frankly at most public libraries this would be beyond the capabilities of most staff members. They are called public access computers because they are just that. To suggest that there is a level of privacy beyond that is simply absurd.

Child murderers

I hold people that help child molesters and child murders in great contempt. Why anyone is even discussing this is beyond me.

The kid is dead, they were hoping to prevent that. I would have carried the computer to their car and printed out the library records of anyone they wanted.

Sue me. If it saved a kids life I'll gladly take the hit in civil court, put me in jail if you want.

Librarians need to get off their high horse because the only people that really give a damn are (most) other librarians, reporters attempting to make some sort of big brother story, and child molesters.

If the cops asked me to help them locate the person that abducted a child I'd be on the porch with my pitchfork and torch so fast your head would spin.

I am so very glad I am out of that job (I was going to say profession but this nonsense makes librarians look like clowns).

You knee-jerk, reactionary dumbass

It does not in the least bit surprise me that you equate the protection of civil liberties with child molestation and murder. What really pisses me off about you, mdoneil, is why anyone would insist on being so utterly stupid so as to willfully misinterpret the situation in a such a way.

Here's a clue you brain-dead fool: We do not support or condone crime in our libertarianism; what we expect is that the right person will be punished for the right crime, and that the accused will be given a fair trial in the spirit of a civilized society with a vested interest in justice.

To that end, it is necessary that law enforcement agents and agencies respect such bleeding-heart niceties as Habeus Corpus and search warrants founded on just cause.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

Nice to hear from you Fang

I never said that we need not respect Habeus Corpus and validly issued warrants. I most certainly think we should, as someone said before Rule of Law, and all that good stuff.

But I don't think that browser histroy and browser cache are patron records. I am making that argument. Others are making the argument that they are.

I don't equate the protection of civil liberties with horrible crimes, if I held that the browser history or cache on the public computers were protected patron records and then said people who didn't release protected patron records were helping criminals, well then I could see your point. Since I didn't do any such thing I fail to see your point.

I don't think I am as utterly stupid as you seem to feel I am. If indeed ignorance is bliss, then I would be as happy as you in the great white north if I were as much of a simpleton as you.

Best regards.

Then violate some suspect's civil liberties

Go ahead and give the cops the computers simply for the asking when your it's turn, then, mdoneil. And when the suspect's lawyer gets the case thrown out of court as fruits of a poison tree, you can content yourself with the knowledge that you were instrumental in getting a kidnapper and child rapist/murder back onto streets, and that you will be his accomplice in his next rape/murder.

Good luck with that.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

Wow you are very tightly wound

If I were to give them the computers, they can certainly access public information.
If they have the computers they may still obtain a warrant to examine them.
Since they already had a suspect, and were trying to locate the girl before she was murdered it can be inferred that they had additional evidence and that any evidence discovered from a search of the public computers prior to a warrant would be admissable, although not remarkably probative.
If the warrant was obtained after the police examined the public areas of the computer (if we stipulate that there is indeed a private area of a public computer- which I certainly would not do if I were prosecuting the case) that evidence is freely admissable.

Stop watching Law and Order, fruit of the poisonous tree is an annoying metaphor. The exclusionary rule allows evidence to be admitted if it would have been discovered independently, as well as for other reasons, so simple procedural errors (although in this case there were none) would not exclude evidence.

Civil Liberties do not extend to criminal behavior.

Wow, you are so shortshighted

If I were to give them the computers, they can certainly access public information.

And then abuse the situation to go on a fishing expedition.

The laws pertaining to the protection of civil liberties are in place because there are people who have no respect for freedoms and liberties. And too many of them in are law enforcement.

My First-Hand Experience With Government Spies

Md. peace groups infiltrated, released documents show

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

Isn't MySpace accessible from any computer?

I'm not sure why they needed the library computers? Why not access her MySpace account from any computer? Did the police really think this one through instead of beating down the library door?

So sorry to hear the outcome was not positive for this girl.

Not positive

Well I guess murdered would be considered not positive.

What is a patron transaction?

"Since browsing the internet is not a patron transaction in the sense that checking out a book or asking a reference question, logging into a database with your library card, those are transactions. The user browses the Internet on his or her own, not involving a library staff member and this not a transaction."

What about libraries that have software that requires a library card number to log on, even for the internet? That is a patron transaction that involves the patron's specific library card number.

Oh, and not involving a staff member? What about all the help library staff provide to patrons (log-in problems, how to use the computer, email attachments, etc.)? Are those not patron transactions?

Your examples are patron transactions

Yes, I might agree that your examples are patron transactions, but once you log in with your library card does everything you do with the browser become a patron transaction.

You are attempting to argue the fine points of the law, and frankly that will not be decided on here.

However please remember that you are arguing that a browsing history or cache of a public computer is improper without a warrant. I can sit down at the computer after you are done and see that. I can stand behind you and see what you are typing, and what websites you are visiting.

You are arguing that giving police access to a public computer is a violation of the law.

In the case instant the police felt that the public computers could lead to clues that would help locate Brooke Bennett, a child kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered. The pervert that used the public computer had no more right to privacy in the computer's cache files than you or I do.

If you want to argue about the finer points of the law - a task for which you are completely unprepared- be my guest. I am going to take the high ground here and say that the right to not be abducted and killed trumps the right to not have people see where you browsed on the Internet at the library's public computers.

I asked two people at the office, one a librarian and one a CPA what they would do if there were in a library when the police came looking for clues regarding a child abduction on the public computers. The librarian (degreed but working in IT, not librarianship) said they would help the cops search, the CPA said he knew what I was talking about - the Vermont case- and he said he would kill the guy himself.

What would you want the librarian to do if it were your daughter?

There is no possible argument you could make for keeping public computers private that would convince the parents of a missing child that the librarian was acting in good faith and performing a noble public service by refusing the police access to the public computers.

Difficult situations make bad law?

Good points to think about. Thank you Matt, I appreciate this.
________________________
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen

Browsing history

From my experience, browsing history would tell you what sites were visited, not who accessed them. If you looked at the browser history right after I logged off, how would you be able to tell how far back to look? This is where library records, made and maintained by the library, come into play (sign-in sheets or software). And if the library has browsing history deleted at the end of each day, what then? That is a very simple step to set up, not out the realm of most libraries or library staff. But, it all becomes a guessing game because I don't know how this particular library maintains their computers. So there is no point continuing this part of the discussion without more information.

I'm not the one who started defining patron transaction; you did with your examples of what is and is not a patron transaction. I just offered a differing viewpoint of those definitons. Those are my opinions and were not meant to be taken as arguing the finer points of the law.

Library records are CONFIDENTIAL no matter what the crime

"Browsing history, browser cache, notes on slips of paper left on the tables, these are neither created nor maintained by the library, and although they may be user identifiable they are not exempt." "The user browses the Internet on his or her own, not involving a library staff member and this not a transaction. Thus the web sites that a patron visited are available for public inspection insofar as they are not transactions."

Again, the library's computers are NOT public computers. They are owned and operated by the library for the use of its patrons. The library controls access to the computers and the library owns and controls the data held on those computers.

Thus, if the browser history and browser cache are maintained and held by the library on the library's computers, the browser history and browser cache, and any information that associates those records with an individual user, are LIBRARY records, kept and maintained by the LIBRARY, and are records of a user transaction within the library. And frankly, if the library sweeps up those little slips of paper and maintains them in a user's record, they, too, become a library-maintained transaction record. (That a user may have had a hand in creating those records is irrelevant. Under your "rule," self-checkouts, self-holds, user-initiated catalog searches and reference inquiries would all be "public records," a result clearly not intended by the law.)

In fact, many states have defined "user record" to include ANY record of a user's intellectual activity in the library - that is, any record that associates an individual with the use of a particular resource in the library. There is no distinction based upon who created the record and no exception for electronic resources. If the library retains the information as a discoverable record of any kind, it is the library's record, subject to relevant law and any library policies.

Let's turn to the language of the Vermont library confidentiality law (quoting the language of the newly-adopted Vermont SB 220): “Patron transaction records” means library records that contain names or other personal identifying information that discloses an individual’s activities within a library, including the materials that have been viewed in print or electronic form, research questions posed, materials in any format that the patron has requested through interlibrary loan or has borrowed, or any other library service or consultation that the patron has requested." (emphasis added)

I don't find this language to be unclear or vague. The law's definition clearly sweeps in any record that 1) identifies the individual user and 2) discloses their activities within the library, including web browsing. A librarian who disclosed that information without a proper court order would violate the law and subject the library to a civil lawsuit under the new Vermont law. Moreover, the librarian would set up a situation where an accused criminal could ask the criminal courts to exclude such tainted evidence.

I would suggest that your own grasp of the law is rather tenuous. I would also suggest that your grasp of Constitutional principles is tenuous as well. In crafting the First and Fourth Amendments, the founders of this nation sought to protect individuals from state's police powers unless the state can show good cause for using that power against the individual. "Showing good cause" has traditionally involved a hearing or submission to a third-party magistrate or judge, who determines whether the facts support the proposed search and seizure. In cases where the exercise of police powers would potentially chill the exercise of certain inalienable rights, like the First Amendment right to receive information, the courts have required the government to make a heightened showing.

No court has found that moral outrage or the allegation of a particular crime, no matter how horrendous, can justify setting aside Constitutional protections or state privacy protections. Moreover, The kind of anti-rights, anti-privacy vigilantism you propose - emptying the library's records at the feet of the policy - might well free a criminal if the information you provide is excluded as improperly obtained evidence, gotten in violation of the law. How would you apologize to the parents of that kidnapped or murdered child if it turned out that your so-called help only served to free the kidnapper/murderer?

It will probably fall on deaf ears in this forum, but it won't hurt to remind everyone that librarians are NOT the police, and are NOT charged with the duty of investigating crime or enforcing criminal laws. Librarians serve society in another capacity -- that of information provider and counselor -- and like similar service providers, owe a duty of confidentiality to their users/patrons/clients that is based both in professional ethics and the law. In preserving that confidentiality, in insisting that the Constitutional and state privacy laws be observed, librarians serve a particular role in our system of Constitutional checks and balances, just as the police and courts serve other particular roles in that system.

I would argue that the Vermont librarians did an exemplary job in this instance. They observed their duty to their users and the law by insisting on the warrant, and respected the needs of law enforcement by preserving the evidence until the court order could be obtained.

librarian vs law inforcement

The librarian, in this case, was simply doing her job. The law enforcement showed up asking her to provide information that by law REQUIRES a warrant to obtain, without the warrant. It is the job of the law enforcement to provide the proper documentation, ie the warrant, if they want access to private information.
I want to know why the law enforcement isn't being held responsible for not following proper procedure, not doing their job properly. I don't find it likely that the law enforcement is unaware of the laws. If the officer/s had appeared with the warrant in the first place this issue would be moot, the librarian would have assisted them with their investigation immediately. Why attack the librarian for doing their job, following the law, when the law enforcement tried to circumvent the law?
Also why did it take 8 hrs to get the warrant in the first place? And why isn't that being questioned?

you give librarians WAY too much power.

that I'm supposed to defend and protect the privacy of your web searching activities while at the same time allowing you totally anonymous access to all web searching activities??? if you want me to protect your privacy, then I'm going to require you to give me some ID before I let you use the Internet; now, anyone can surf on our computers without any personal information disclosed. it's a nice Catch-22: if you want me to protect your privacy, then "1) identify yourself."
...so no personal information given, no violation of privacy when I, or anyone else, search your Internet history.

our policy is no warrant, no law enforcement taking computers from the building. but cops have the same rights as everyone else; if he wants the pc right after you and copies your Internet history, no rules are broken in my book. you should've stayed home. we only protect borrowing records, not browsing records.

on another legal note: how many library do phone reference and write down the caller's questions? what do you do with the paper after you answer the question? do you shred the paper? do you just throw it in the recycle bin with everything else? I bet most libraries just throw this stuff out without shredding it-- thousands of *real* privacy violations with names, phone number or email addresses and library transactions recorded then discarded in the trash. based on the Vermont law, I bet we'd all end up in jail.

You are wrong on so many levels

Library computers are public computers; they are paid for with taxpayer funds and furnished to anyone who wishes to use them for whatever lawful purpose they may enjoy.

To suggest that the library owns and controls the data on those computers is laughable. If I wrote a novel at a library workstation, saved it to my own disk, and had it published would the library hold the copyright. No, of course not; In this case it is not a matter of a novel, or even a circulation record or reference question but a log file made in the ordinary course of operating the web browser in the public computer. These are not privileged. We are not discussing evidentiary rules, so you need not discuss the possible admissability of any evidence obtained by the examination of the computers prior to a court order. The task at hand was to locate a missing girl, the secondary objective was to establish a case against the depraved felon who abducted her. The life of the vitim is more important than the incarceration of the flotsam and jetsam of society.

Your interpretation of the Vermont Act which I previously discussed is far too broad to be considered. If we include all activities in the library in which a patron may be identified, I could shoot the librarian after showing them my card, and they couldn't tell the police who did it.

What you may think of my grasp of the law is not important, perhaps you would like to consult with the NYS OCA; they seem to think my grasp of the law is sufficient. (Not that any of my commentary is legal advice; if you want legal advice hire your own counsel).

Your suggestion that librarians have some type of librarian- patron privilege or seal of the confessional is simply wrong. Librarians have a duty to maintain the confidentiality of specific enumerated records, nothing more.

I have no idea why many librarians think they are Constitutional scholars. If you want to debate the law go to law school.

Your last paragraph does indeed contain some truth that was originally not reported. The fact that the librarian embargoed the computers was not reported in the days following the incident. The omission of that fact is poor journalism - oddly what is ubiquitous these days. That in and of itself makes their conduct acceptable.

You want to drink the ALA kool-aid be my guest. I personally care less about keeping the freaks, perverts, and criminals’ browser cache secret than saving people lives. Which is the greater good? I'll put you down in the pro-child murdering column.

Why I am even discussing this with someone who does not have the good sense to sign up for a user name so we can identify their comments from all the others?

good point

I agree with Mr. O'Neil. Only people with advanced degrees should be allowed to discuss things within those fields.

Everyone, however, can protect the children.

Librarians don't think they are constitutional scholars but thanks for the condescension. We do think that many of us have or will have to deal with these issues at some point in our career and won't have Lawrence Tribe whispering in our ears to help us.

So unless you are volunteering to be Con. Law Counsel Emeritus for the whole of the library profession - maybe we, the sisterhood, should continue to figure this out.

Librarians have a duty to maintain the confidentiality of specific enumerated records, nothing more.

Your interpretation of the librarians' duty of confidentiality is too narrow to be considered.

anonymity doesn't negate privacy rights

"...so no personal information given, no violation of privacy when I, or anyone else, search your Internet history."

Anonymity does not negate privacy rights. Please identify the part of the law that says "if you don't show me your ID, you surrender your rights under the Constitution and the state library confidentiality law."

As for a user being able to browse another user's browsing history: I'd say this is a big FAIL for the library's policy. Software that clears the cache and resets the browser (as well as clears off any lingering virii, trojans, pop-ups, and other nasties) whenever a new user logs on is cheap, easy to set up, and an assurance that the library is protecting the library's network systems as well as the individual user's privacy.

But let's say the browser history persists - it's useless without disclosing the record that associates a particular user with that browsing history. Disclosing THAT information would certainly violate the law, absent a court order.

And yes, I'd agree that libraries and librarians need to think about how they handle user information - I can't count the number of times that I've been able to read another user's record on the computer screen while waiting to check out, because the screen was set up at a 90 degree angle for the librarian's/clerk's convenience.

However, the negligent failure to fully protect user information in one instance doesn't justify other, additional disclosures in another instance.

You have made a very good point

You say : But let's say the browser history persists - it's useless without disclosing the record that associates a particular user with that browsing history. Disclosing THAT information would certainly violate the law, absent a court order.

If I stipulate that this cache or browser history was a library record (which I would not do) there is no direct association with an identifiable patron because the cache is not patron specific.

That said, the police were looking for something the missing girl did, or something that the kidnapper did with the girl's account when impersonating her after fradulently accessing her account. There is no presumption of privacy when you illegally enter a protected computer system (the myspace account). I can't steal your wallet, use your library card and then claim that my privacy was violated when the cops look at your library records to see what unauthorized transactions took place.

Would this have been avoided had they had a warrant, of course it would. Was a warrant necessary, probably not, would a warrant headed off any challange to the admissability of any evidence obtained based on patron confidentiality, probably. I have no idea of the exigency of the circumstances. I am also at a loss to explain why it took eight hours to obtain a warrant - I surmise that it was not as important as other branches of the investigation. I know that in my Circuit a telephonic warrant can be obtained within minutes if needed. Certainly this is used only in the most serious cases, and only when time is extremely important, but it is indeed possible.

While I would love to dissect the new Act, especially by looking at decisions which may illuminate exactly what a patron transaction might be, I don't have the 80 hours to do it, and I don't have a LA to do my resarch for me. However I am certain I can make a very persuasive argument that cache and browser history are not protected.

N.B. About 2 years ago I checked 6 local libraries to see if the cache was still visible after the previous patron exited the public computer. Six out of six had it. One library had Faronics Deep Freeze, but it was not activated between patrons if there was not a 15 minute period of non-use. There is no reason that the library could not ensure that cache and history are unavailable - and since the goal would be to protect patron privacy rather than obfuscate the police it would certainly be an acceptable solution to the problem of public access computer privacy.

The Rule of Law

I have, indeed, gone to law school. I assure you - as someone who has actually practiced law -- that your unique legal interpretations would not pass judicial scrutiny. Please cite the law or legal opinion that would exempt the record of a user's browser history, held and maintained by the library, from the coverage of Vermont SB 220 (the law explicitly sweeps in "electronic transactions.") Please cite the law or legal opinion that holds that library computers and the data held on those computers are NOT owned by the library, and are free to be mined by law enforcement or any third party. Hey, I'm willing to be educated.

The ownership and control of the computer and the data stored on it lies with the governing body of the library board and its agents, just as ownership and control of the library's books lies with that same board. The fact that the library board and its agents make those computers available to library users does not change the computer's status under the law, or the status of the data and records held on that computer. I doubt very much that any court would endorse your conclusion that the library does not hold and control those records, or that those records are not subject to the state's library confidentiality law.

And I resolutely defend my interpretation of a user transaction record. I did not say the law protected ALL user activity in the library - but - and I quote - "any record of a user's intellectual activity in the library - that is, any record that associates an individual with the use of a particular resource in the library." Or, as the Vermont law states, any record that "discloses an individual’s activities within a library, including the materials that have been viewed in print or electronic form, research questions posed, materials in any format that the patron has requested through interlibrary loan or has borrowed, or any other library service or consultation that the patron has requested." Hardly a shield against disclosure of a crime committed in the library, but certainly a shield against disclosure of users' browser records, which is the matter at hand.

As for your claim that evidentiary rules and Constitutional protections are irrelevant under the facts: the investigation into the kidnapping/murder was and is a criminal investigation, conducted by state and local law enforcement. As such, full constitutional protections come into play - the right to counsel, the right against self-incrimination, the right to be free from unauthorized search and seizure, the right to remain silent. These protections are not erased because you or anyone else consider the crime particularly horrible.

Evidentiary rules also remain are a consideration, even in the heat of an investigation. Under the doctrine of "the fruit of the poisoned tree," any evidence obtained illegally, as well as evidence discovered as a result of the illegally obtained evidence, can be excluded at the accused criminal's trial.

And one other Constitutional principle that's been neglected in this discussion: there's a legal presumption of innocence that applies here. No law authorizes the librarian to set aside that assumption or the Constitutional and statutory protections built upon that assumption, no matter how heinous the crime being investigated. Are librarians supposed to dump users' records at the feet of the police simply because they walk in and announce that they believe the library's computers may hold some evidence concerning the crime? No - under the law, that determination is (rightly) left to the courts, the entities authorized under the law to evaluate the police officers' claims and determine if the facts support the search for and seizure of a particular record or records.

Library professionals who either voluntarily suscribe to the ALA Code of Ethics or work in a library which has adopted the Code of Ethics as part of its governing policies do have an ethical duty as well as a legal duty under the various state laws to protect the confidentiality of user records. As such, they are no different than doctors, lawyers, social workers, or psychologists who are subject to the same kind of ethical and legal obligations. It may not rise to the "seal of the confessional," but it is, in fact, an obligation and a duty under the law.

Finally, you're entitled to your opinion concerning "child murderers" and the need for vigilante actions. Fortunately, the rule of law does not endorse your views, for which I am eternally grateful. Though the current administration has trenched close to the line, we're not yet a police state.

One final postscript: waving around your law degree, name-calling, and demeaning the intellectual capacities of your debate opponents is pretty piss-poor advocacy.

One more in the child molester support column?

Did you read the articles about this. The Vermont Act went into force on 7/1, this happened before then so it is not applicable to the situation at hand.

So you went to some TTT and think you are a Constitutional scholar. Good for you.

I would have helped the police locate a missing girl, you would not. It is as simple as that.

Did you read the article?

Did you read the article? Fred Cate - who is a paid, actual legal scholar at Indiana University -- stated that the librarian acted appropriately, and that the library would have been liable for any legal consequences if she had violated the library's policy requiring a court order. Sometimes the best part of valor is understanding and observing your limits under the law, whether those limits derive from law or contract.

In any case, the law is now in place and would govern any future interaction between the police and this library. I responded as I did to dispute your assertion that a library user's browser history is not a user transaction, and to dispute your earliest comments that it would be appropriate for a librarian to violate the law. Those who come to this posting deserve to know that your assertions are not necessarily the best or correct legal conclusions.

In a subsequent post you claim you believe you could persuade a judge that browser histories are not covered by the law. Given the law's plain language that electronic transactions are covered by the law, you need much more than your personal opinion to persuade the average judge to exclude browser histories from the law's coverage. You might call an expert witness or two to echo your interpretation, but it would likely be insufficient - I'd wager that for every witness you'd call, there would be as many or more witnesses on the other side offering a contrary opinion. If the legislative history reveals that the legislator who drafted the law intended to include browser histories as an "electronic transaction," your argument wouldn't go any farther than the pleadings stage. But again, I'm willing to be persuaded, if you wish to educate me.

While I sympathize with your personal loss, and understand your emotional reaction to this particular case, I will stand firm in my assertion that none of that justifies violating the law (and yes, I know you've acknowledged that your actions could violate the law and you would take the consequences for those actions.) If you have passed the bar and have been admitted to practice, as I have, you've taken an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution - and I don't take that oath lightly.

By the way, my beliefs, and my determination to stand by my obligations as an officer of the court do not make a child molester, or a supporter of child molesters.

Nor...

"Those who come to this posting deserve to know that your assertions are not necessarily the best or correct legal conclusions.

Nor are they the wrong conclusions and since it has yet to be tested in Court we won't know which of us is correct until such time as it is; and I think I am.

You and I both know that people are not coming to LISNews for legal advice, and I've made it plain several times that I am not offering that.

The Oath of Attorney I took required that I support the Constitution of my State and the United States of America, it also stated that I will never reject,.. the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.

Since I think the Act that went into effect on July 1st does not include public information on a public computer, and since no one can fit the idea of defenseless or oppressed than a kidnapped child my oath is inviolate.

Oath from an attorney, as if the public thinks that is worth the paper upon which it is written. Geez, Librarians are rock stars compared to lawyers in the court of public opinion.

So....

Since I think the Act that went into effect on July 1st does not include public information on a public computer, and since no one can fit the idea of defenseless or oppressed than a kidnapped child my oath is inviolate.

My conclusion - that library computers are NOT public computers, and that the data held on those computers is owned and controlled by the library - draws on case law and statute that says when an agency or entity purchases title to an item, it owns and controls that item; and in the case of a computer, the data stored on that computer. (It's irrelevant that the library allows anyone who comes to the library to use the computer it owns and controls; it's also irrelevant that the source of the library's budget is taxpayer funds, else we could all just waltz into the White House and demand a bed.) (And hey, what if the computer was purchased with a Gates grant? Not public?)

My conclusion also relies on the standard canons of interpretation, which looks first to the plain language of the law. In this case, the law states that both print and electronic records of user transactions are NOT public records, but confidential information. There's noting in the language of the law that excludes a user's browser data.

So, I've asked before, and I'll ask again - what statutes and precedents are you drawing on for your conclusion? That's the first question the judge will ask you.

(Yeah, yeah, you claim to not be offering legal advice, but your initial postings here and elsewhere often set forth your opinions as legal conclusions - and yes, some might take you at your word.)

As for the defenseless and oppressed, I'd argue that not rejecting their cause has more to do with stepping up and offering representation to those without representation - the poor, the uneducated, the powerless who find themselves facing eviction or a default judgment or a criminal accusation without representation, including the accused child molester when he or she stands before the bar without a lawyer and the judge points at you and says it is your turn to fulfill your role as an officer of the court and become that person's zealous advocate.

'Cause I'm pretty certain that the State Bar wouldn't see deliberately violating the law as "upholding the law and the Constitution," and I'm pretty certain the call to not abandon the cause of the defenseless and oppressed wasn't intended to trump the remaining parts of the oath. But that's my opinion, of course. We could always ask the State Bar for their opinion, which is the only one that counts.

Tense

This is not legal advice.

You have a different opinion. I think you are wrong. It will not be decided on LISNews so I don't know why you keep on.

"So, I've asked before, and I'll ask again" and I've said before it is my opinion.

I can't try it here, I don't have the time to prepare if I had to, I have a real job.

If you want to report me to the OCA go ahead. They will laugh at you.

"Why I am even discussing

"Why I am even discussing this with someone who does not have the good sense to sign up for a user name so we can identify their comments from all the others?"

Oh yes, let's start the attacks for anonymous commenting. Fun, fun. My personal reason for posting anonymously is while I read LISNews every day, I rarely comment on this site. When I do comment, it is always responded to in a condescending manner such as mdoneil responding "If you want to argue about the finer points of the law - a task for which you are completely unprepared- be my guest. I am going to take the high ground here..." Mdoneil, you know nothing of my preparedness. You claim to take the higher ground when, in fact, you were the one who tried to define patron transactions. I countered with a plausible scenario in which, under your definition, browsing history could be construed as a patron tranaction, and you obviously took offense enough to put me down. Thanks.

As others have posted, the particular law in question states that such records include "the materials that have been viewed in print or electronic form". Under mdoneil's definitions, I can read the local newspaper online and it's not protected, but I can check out a back-issue and that is protected. What if I take a physical copy of the paper and sit down and read the paper while surfing the web? Is half of that protected?

Finally, the library doesn't own the data, but it does own the computers, the software and the licensing to go along with those. Public property funded by taxpapers you say? So are the computers in City Hall. If there was an investigation to improper use of funds or some other situation that required confiscation of computers, don't you think the cops would have a search warrant? I'd think so. (But then again, I clearly don't have the credentials you have, as you so kindly pointed out.) It doesn't matter who uses the computers, patrons or city employees, they were all purchased with taxpaper funds. That doesn't mean that they can be confiscated without a warrant.

Do you even read what others write.

I didn't say you couldn't be anonymous, I simply said you should sign up for an account so your comments can be distinguished from others.

Since it is obvious you can't comprehend what is written here it is simply a waste of time.

Enjoy the kool-aid Learned Hand. You are another reason nobody gives a damn about librarians anymore. They were at one time respected for their wisdom and skills at locating arcane information. Now they are just those people who go to extremes to help the perverts and child molesters at the library.

i'm the anon. poster who can't comprehend

How's that are being distinguishing? By saying I should sign up to be distinguished from others, you ARE suggesting that I shouldn't post anonymously. The fact that you phrase it as such, "someone who does not have the good sense to sign up" is demeaning and totally unnecessary. Let me clarify my earlier explanation: I had only intended to make one post, hence not signing up. I didn't intend to make several posts, and seeing the response to this, I doubt I will sign up.

Regardless of my intelligence, or lack thereof, I understand clearly when someone is being condescending. It doesn't take a law degree to figure that out. I'd say I took the higher ground because I attacked your argument, whereas you attacked my argument as well as my person.

I don't believe ALA nor do I even pay attention to what they say. I don't belong to that organization, nor will I ever. Don't assume associations that I do not have. Not everyone is spouting ALA propaganda. Quit being so paranoid and judgmental. As for the Learned Hand comment, as you have previously pointed out, I clearly don't have the expertise to discuss that, as that is law and apparently it takes a law degree to even think about such things.

I highly doubt that I am the reason librarians are not respected. Please! There is no dignified response to this other than to say that is highly reactionary and outrageous.

You keep harping on the whole child molester and perv thing. If you can distinguish those from the general public, please let me know. Otherwise, they have the same rights as other patrons do; as long as they behave lawfully within the library. The moment they don't, I'm the first one of the phone for the cops.

As for my qualifications, I am not a degreed librarian. I have a BA in English Lit and I worked circulation and reference for 6 years. As well as computer lab assistance and programming and shelving among various other duties. I have been in contact with patron records of every type. Does that qualify me for this discussion?

correction to my previous post

Should be 'for' not 'are' in the first sentence. I am capable of proofreading my work, but alas, I am human. I do make mistakes on ocassion and I do acknowledge them.

I doubt anyone noticed.

Even I am not that big of a putz to play grammar police. Well, not too often.

Amazing

"I had only intended to make one post, hence not signing up. I didn't intend to make several posts, and seeing the response to this, I doubt I will sign up."
Because I am a jerk you don't want to sign up? That is a really poor reason. Sign up; make up a name and post, even if simply to call me a putz.

"Quit being so paranoid and judgmental." Paranoid, not really; judgmental, you bet! What is wrong with judgmental? People are judgmental all the time. Pick one cantaloupe over another - that is judgmental. So I think you are completely off base about something, big deal how does that change the overall scheme of things.

I didn't attack your person; I didn't punch you in the nose. I may have attacked your ideas, your assertions, your opinions, and yes even drawn the hyperbolic conclusion that you support child murders.

I am pleased that you do not belong to ALA, a person of fine intellect you indeed must be.

Sign up, make up a name and participate. It is only through discourse that we learn. While it may at times be rough and at other times comical, through it we grow in understanding.

I am glad you call the cops when people misbehave in the library.

I think we may indeed agree on a great deal more than you think. I agree that patron records are indeed confidential, should remain confidential, and should require an order to be released - an order that can be appealed and quashed if a finding of just cause is not made.

I think we may disagree on if a browser cache or history on a public computer is a patron record. I say it is not, and I think I could convince a judge it is not even with the new Act in Vermont in place. Until someone tries we will never know.

If the police knew they were going to get grief from the librarian they should have simply used the computer as a patron would. They could have poked around as much as they wanted. If they found something evidentiary they could have then obtained an order for a more comprehensive examination. No one could argue that the police looking at the computer just as you or I could have looked at the machine to be a violation of privacy. There is a decreased expectation of privacy in a public space, no one can deny that.

It was handled poorly by the police and the librarian. I care less about privacy than I do about finding missing children. I would have helped the police search the computers, and if found to be in violation of some law I would have gladly suffered the consequences. Others may not be so cavalier.

As it was put so well in Fried Green Tomatoes I'm older and I have more insurance. Sue me for violating privacy, I really don't care. I can make a good argument to a jury that I did it for the greater good, to help find a kidnapped child.

I hate child molesters more than anything on the face of the earth. When I was 8 years old my friend killed herself because a relative was molesting her. I can't stand those people they do more damage than any war or plague could possibly do. I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty, but if I saw someone abusing a child I would kill them myself.

So yes, I do use very strong language and make some statements others may consider over the top, but there is nothing more important in the world than the innocence of children. You can wrap yourself in the Constitution if you want, and in all other cases I'd join you, but in this case - or any case involving children - I have a moral obligation that far outweighs any legal obligation imposed upon me.

As to your qualifications to participate in this discussion, you are most probably more qualified than I. I was a public librarian for 18 months, and I do have an MLS, but frankly it was not the most rigirous program (perhaps because I also have a BS in Information Studies and some of the classes were almost exactly the same, but with a higher course number.) I do not have the length of exposure to patrons, their records, nor library computers systems as you do. However the prime qualification for participating -in my opinion- is a desire to do so. So in that respect you are eminently qualified.

As to law degrees, they are marginally more difficult than library school, but lack the utility that an MLS offers. Upon graduating from law school one is qualified to practice law, something I consider for the most part repugnant.

So sign up, make up a name and participate. Differing opinions add value to debate. Who wants to be surrounded by yes men?

Signing off...or signing on?

Mdoneil, I might just take up the offer to sign up on the next big topic. This discussion has worn me out. You do make valid points when they are not wrapped in extreme commentary. Browsing history can often be easily accessible to the average patron, but is that enough reason to claim that it is not a patron record? There is a lack of privacy involved with most browsing type activities in the library. Anyone can see you reading the paper, what books you're carrying, or glance at your computer screen. Where to draw the curtain of privacy is a tough place to pinpoint. That particular library had a policy that defined it for their specific purposes and the librarian followed it.

If I don't sign up, you'd be only one of the reasons. The biggest reason would be I just browse this site. Yes, I'm using the word browse. Fitting, isn't it? And how did you know that scene in Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my favorites? I'd say you're trying to butter me up to get me to sign up. It might just work.

Good!

I hope to see you around doing more than just browsing.

I still don't get the majority of this discussion;

...our Internet policies state that the library cannot be responsible for patron privacy or security on the Internet, and we provide wi-fi access and state explicitly in our policy that their privacy and security is their own responsibility.

And about assisting law enforcement: we have policy for requiring both a warrant and time for an attorney to review it before we turn over patron data. But it seems that some people don't just expect librarians to question authority, they expect us to be openly hostile toward it.

Apples to Oranges

I think here, effinglibrarian, you are considering two separate concepts. I would argue that there is a difference between the lack of privacy over the internet and computer networks over which the library cannot have any control, and privacy on the computers for which the library is directly responsible.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

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