Handling a Request for Library Records by a Law Enforcement Agency
Increased visits to libraries by law enforcement agents, including FBI agents and officers of state, county, and municipal police departments, are raising considerable concern among the public and the library community. These visits are not only a result of the increased surveillance and investigation prompted by the events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent passage of the USA Patriot Act, but also as a result of law enforcement officers investigating computer crimes, including email threats and possible violations of the laws addressing online obscenity and child pornography.
The Northville District Library will cooperate with law enforcement as long as the request adheres to the conditions of the Michigan Privacy Act, or in any case where the USA Patriot Act mandates it.
If a Law Enforcement Officer asks a Northville District Library (NDL) staff person for a library record:
The library staff person shall do the following:
- Escort the officer to a private area.
- Explain that only the director or designee is authorized on the staff to handle this situation, and that he/she has no authority to release tangible records to agents.
- Refer the officer to the to the Director or Designee.
- If the Director is not available, then refer the officer to the Assistant Director; if neither is present, the staff person will attempt to call them at home. If not able to reach either, then the staff person becomes the Director's Designee, and should follow the procedures listed below.
The Director shall then do the following IN EVERY CASE:
- Check the type of order
- Call the attorney (Steven Schultz at Fahey, Schultz, Burzych &Rhodes, 517-381-0100)
- On advice of attorney, assure that court order is correctly issued, and if not, request that the corrections be made before taking action
- Determine what type of record is sought in the order
- Make a copy of any court order/search warrant/legal document presented
- Request that all communication be directed to her
- Verify the Identity of the Law Enforcement Officer:
FBI DETROIT OFFICE: 313-965-2323
NORTHVILLE POLICE 248-349-1234
MICHIGAN STATE POLICE 248
If not listed above, consult the phone book.
Do not rely on the information presented by the agent.
In the case of an immediate search, contact the agency represented before allowing the search to occur.
- Ask to have another staff member present, to take notes, etc.
- Get an inventory of any records taken
- Do not sign anything verifying the contents or accuracy of any records
- Do not give any records/information not specifically requested.
Depending on the type of legal document and agency presented, the director or designee shall also do the following:
If the officer does not have a court order or warrant, the director will then briefly explain the requirements of the Michigan Library Privacy Act, and inform the officer that records may only be released to the Law Enforcement Officer pursuant to a valid court order.
If the officer is from a state or local agency, with a court order, then it is subject to the Michigan Privacy Act and does not need to be acted upon immediately, as there is provision in the law for a court hearing prior to turning over any records.
- Call the attorney.
- Insist that the search be conducted with the attorney present.
If the officer is from a Federal agency and has a court order:
The director shall do the following:
- Ask for a brief delay, but keep all information/records intact! (The library staff has a duty to preserve evidence).
- Cooperate fully with the search.
- Do not discuss the search or divulge any related information to anyone but those directly involved who might need to know to assist. (For all USA Patriot Act searches, a "gag order" is applicable. Since this may or may not be governed by this, assume that it is and proceed accordingly until you are told otherwise.)
If the Federal court order is in the form of a subpoena, it is NOT executable immediately. Call the attorney and wait to proceed until you are advised by them.
If the Federal ourt order is in the form of a Search Warrant (USA Patriot Act), it IS executable immediately. The agent may begin a search of library records as soon as they serve the director with the order.
If the officer asks for staff observations (examples are screen or paper in plain view, patron behavior, or physical descriptions), then the staff person able to provide this evidence may attempt to do so. Observations do no fall under the definition of "records" and are thus not subject to confidentiality constraints. Staff should remember, however, that they have the right to decline to offer any observation.
In addition, staff should be aware that there is no such thing as casual or "off the record" conversation with a law enforcement officer in this type of situation.