Category Archives: CIL2008

A Breach of Trust

Norman Oder, writing in Library Journal, reports that Darrell Batson, director of the Frederick County Public Library, turned over two public-access computers to FBI agents investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks.  Library officials claimed that:

"Public-access computers are not connected to FCPL’s library patron records. No library patron records were provided to the FBI. Library patrons’ records are not made available to law enforcement authorities without a court order."

Library computers are analogous to books and other materials within the library. They may not necessarily be checked out and therefore are not part of the patron's circulation record (though some libraries do view computer reservation systems as analogous to check-out) but they are a library resource being used by a library user. In my opinion this equates to protected use of library materials. If the FBI came in and asked for security camera footage to see what someone was reading, would we turn it over without a warrant? If an officer asked a librarian what magazine article a customer had just been reading, would we provide it?

When a library customer comes into our building and makes use of our resources and services, we extend to that user a shield of privacy so long as they agree not to violate our policies or the law. The protective shield of privacy can only be pierced when the individual violates the contract regarding use. If we, the library, witness the violation then it is incumbent upon us to take proper and appropriate action. However, if an outside agency, such as the FBI, comes to us and claims that a law was broken and that we need to turn over anything that could connect our library users with information they sought within our building or while using our services then we need to require that a minimum threshold is met — namely, the production of a warrant.

Frederick County Public Library, in my opinion, failed this test.

Batson said that "it was a decision I made on my experience and the information given to me."  A library director would never accept this excuse from his staff.

Library administrators spend a great deal of time training and reminding staff that under no circumstances should they acquiesce to uniformed intimidation and turn over library records or anything that could identify information seekers and the information they sought to law enforcement without a proper warrant. Library use — information both sought and retrieved — is private data that should never be subject to search and seizure without proper judicial oversight.

By turning over public-access computers to federal authorities without a warrant, the Frederick County Public Library has violated the trust of its patrons and violated a basic precept of librarianship. Personal and identifiable data most likely exists on those computers to link people to their searches, email, visited websites, etc. If a crime had been committed then the FBI would have been able to produce a warrant to seize the computers and the library would then turn over the requested items. But library officials did not require that warrant. They turned the computers over to federal agents based solely upon the word of the FBI agent on scene, and in doing so they have set an awful example to librarians everywhere.

EDIT: 8/8/08  Follow-up story in New York Times:

Library officials turned over the computers voluntarily to the F.B.I. last week. The Justice Department said it believed it needed a search warrant to examine the contents, and two warrants were approved Thursday by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

Computers in Libraries, 2008

CiL2008 was awesome! Seeing so many friends, getting to finally meet so many amazing librarians, and being able to talk with such knowledgeable professionals made this CiL the best ever. And, if you want to see who was there, take a look at Cindi's Magnum-quality portraits. She even grabbed a shot of me without me knowing. (And I am envious of her Canon 5D.)

Even though I've been to this conference a few times, this was the year I was finally able to meet some of my favorite social networking friends and fellow librarians. It's such an honor to be able to call so many of them "friend".

I was proud to be able to present with Michael Stephens on Transparency, Planning & Change: See-Through Libraries. If you'd like to see the slides they're here (as PDFs). We had a great time even though the room was a bit long and narrow. And thanks to Helene Blowers who did a fabulous job moderating the Innovation and Change track.

Already looking forward to next year!

Cherry Blossoms in DC

Cherry Blossoms in DC, originally uploaded by Michael Casey.

Saturday was a beautiful day on the Mall and many of the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. DC is a great city and I'm glad ITI has continued to hold their Computers in Libraries conference here year after year.

Heading to Washington for CIL

I'll be heading to Washington this weekend to attend the annual Computers in Libraries conference put on by ITI. I'll be speaking with Michael Stephens about transparency and libraries (see below). Looking forward to seeing some friends that I've not seen in far too long.

Session E202 – Transparency, Planning, & Change: See-Through Libraries
Tuesday 11:30 AM – 12:15 PM

Michael Casey, Division Director – Technology, Gwinnett Public Library
Michael Stephens, Assistant Professor, Dominican University
Integrating technology, change management and planning, this session focuses on making the right choices for social software, staff training, and the creation of a user-driven environment. Our two leading librarians explore what makes a library transparent; offer a to-do list of strategies to make your library transparent, open, and hyperlinked; and offer a list of best practices for Web 2.0 tools, implementation, and evaluation.