Strange Brouhaha

Friday, June 23, 2006

What about all the times this doesn't happen?

Let's say you work in a job where you have access to data about your customers: their names, their home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and all the transactions they've ever had with your business. The police come to you and say, "Hey, we're looking for a guy who did something bad. He was carrying an item from your business. We need to see the records on anyone who purchased that item."

Most people would just say, "Okay," because we've been conditioned by years of watching police shows on TV: say "No" and you get strongarmed and threatened. By the good guys, no less. And the thing is, those same police shows--if you pay attention--tell us time and again what happens when the police do that: information obtained like that gets tossed because it wasn't obtained correctly. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong; all I know about criminal law is what they tell me on Law and Order. Curse you, Dick Wolf!)

So, in our hypothetical situation, you should actually say "No. Those are private records. You'll need to get a subpoena." If you do that, you're doing your job correctly and are actually helping make an airtight case against the suspect, right?

Apparently not if you're a library director in New Jersey, as seen on Slashdot this morning. No, if you're Michelle Reutty, you're going to be disciplined by your library board for protecting your patrons. You're going to be vilified by your mayor.

That leads me to the question posed by the title of this post: what about all the times this doesn't happen? How often are "requests" complied with? It's kind of scary, especially since USAPATRIOT actually prevents libraries from telling when the Feds search their records. I'm all for catching criminals, but procedure is procedure. The police and the mayor and the library board should be grateful to Michelle Reutty, and all librarians should be encouraged to follow her example.


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