Local News Pits Libraries Against the Police

By , March 28, 2011 1:36 pm

by Philippe Cloutier

A public library standing up for privacy rights and standard library procedure, rather than ceding to the security demands of police, made the headlines and King 5 nightly news. The King County Woodmont Library finds itself at the center of the story after a surveillance camera caught footage of an attack and robbery. The Des Moines Police Department wanted the video as soon as possible, but the library followed its privacy policy and demanded a warrant first. As the library’s attorney states,  this policy strikes “a balance between the public’s right to be private in their private affairs and the police to get the information they need for law enforcement.”

I’m fairly surprised that this made the news. The issue has been at the forefront of libraries and law enforcement since libraries became public. Even the Patriot Act addresses the topic. Perhaps it’s due to a slow news day paired with the violent nature of the crime (versus the usual entanglements involving patron check-out records and other information). Some of the comments raise the what-if questions: what would have happened if it had been a murder or a library employee had been mugged? Would the library administration require a warrant or gladly hand the video over without judicial procedure? I’m not entirely clear on the ramifications of a public library handing over evidence without a warrant, but it sounds as though it would be a bad idea for the police and the case.

One Response to “Local News Pits Libraries Against the Police”

  1. Very unexpected twist. It definitely raises a few questions as it’s outside of the typical purview of libraries and their privacy concerns, as you allude to. I’m curious about where the cameras were located and for what purpose they were installed. Privacy policies implemented as here (unrelated to patron’s information seeking activities) and the installation of surveillance cameras seem incongruous.

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