while you were midwintering….

Hi. I’m back and very tired. Midwinter went fairly well from my perspective. Council meetings seemed effective. I got to see most of the people i tried to see and had some nice serendipitous meetings with others. My company was part usual suspects and part people I’d never met before including a healthy dose of library students. I learned things. I took a lot of public transportation in an unfamiliar city. I stayed within my budget and I got home feeling smarter than when I left. I have a stack of paperwork that I’d like to share parts of with you but it will need to wait until the weekend.

In the meantime, while we were all at the meeting, this happened “City stalls FBI access in library” referring to the librarian at the Newton Free Library in Massachusetts who wouldn’t let FBI agents in to search library computers without a warrant after there had been emailed threats directed towards Brandeis University sent from one of the library computers. According to an article in the Boston Herald, this was done with the mayor’s knowledge and backing but everyone seems set to blame the librarian anyhow. This was a big enough news items to be the butt of a lot of jokes on talk radio by the time I was driving home from the airport. I’m just starting to read about this story, but correct me if I’m wrong, couldn’t the agents have just asked for the data on the computers, using the USA PATRIOT Act as their legal justification? This seems like a case where they were reluctant to for some reason. The Boston Globe article on the subject says this

[B]y the time a warrant became an issue, law enforcement officials had determined there was no imminent danger and decided to cooperate with Newton officials, Marcinkiewicz said. She said no arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon. [emphasis mine]

9 comments for “while you were midwintering….

  1. 26Jan06 at 10:43

    You’re wrong. The Patriot Act is not a “legal justification,” but a law governing law enforcement access to business records, inter alia.

    The FBI determined after waiting almost nine hours for a warrant that there was no longer any imminent danger: Does this mean that there could not have been imminent danger at the time? That there will never be imminent danger?

  2. 26Jan06 at 11:21

    2 things for you.

    1st of all, Dan Kennedy (former media columnist for the Boston Phoenix) blogged more details about the Netwon story

    2, the latest Christian Science Monitor (Friday) has two articles about libraries and librarians.

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  4. 27Jan06 at 9:59

    Just guessing here, but maybe the USAPA was not available because no one could even assert with a straight face that the threat came from a foreign intelligence agent?

  5. Administrator
    27Jan06 at 10:44

    My reading of the article is that the phrase “by the time the warrant became an issue” means that at the time the librarian said “hey fellas, you need a warrant” danger was no longer imminent.

  6. 27Jan06 at 11:35

    Great to see you in San Antonio, Jessamyn, and a priveledge to sit near you.

    Liza is right on when she says that USAPA does not apply because there is no possible way to assert a terrorist threat.

    I’ve actually had the FBI visit me for a criminal case. They were incredibly careful and came twice with two separate warrents to be sure that they were legal and did not jeapordize their case. I’m proud of the Newton librarian standing up for patron rights.

    My experience with law enforcement has been, if you explain what rules you will play by, they are happy to follow the rules.

  7. barbara
    27Jan06 at 2:14

    One of the misleading things about the story is that the emergency was dealt with – the buildings were evacuated and searched for explosives. That didn’t require a warrant. What requires a warrant is seizing information that may lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person who sent the threat. That was not an emergency. Screwing up any chance of a conviction through an improper seizure would be a bigger goof than waiting a few hours to take the computers. (I’m assuming Massachusets, like most states, protects the privacy of library records by statute, so taking that information without a warrant would be grounds for throwing out any evidence obtained.) And if it were truly important to have that information quickly, a phone warrant isn’t hard to get. It simply wasn’t necessary in this case.

    I wish the story had said “federal agents demanded the librarian break a state law; by insisting on a warrant she upheld the laws of the Commonwealth.” But then, she would have looked sensible and law-abiding, and we can’t have that.

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