I posted the other day about my home town of Newton, MA Fighting the Power, as it were. And now comes this follow-up, also from John, who is rapidly becoming a regular stringer for my blog.

Editorial from The Boston Globe: When librarians protect terrorists

I still say that the Newton Library Director did the right thing, since after all the FBI agents who showed up at the library didn’t have a warrant. It’s not like the Library Director outright refused to hand over the computer that the agents wanted to seize; she just refused to hand it over without a warrant. But the author of the editorial does make some sound arguments:

…based on a misunderstanding of both Section 215 of the Patriot Act as well as the protections provided in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. … “Like it or not, once you’ve disclosed information to someone else, the Constitution no longer protects it. This diffuse-it-and-lose-it rule applies to library borrowing and Web surfing as well, however much librarians may claim otherwise.”

Not being a lawyer, I don’t feel qualified to evaluate the soundness of this argument. But in either case, if librarians want to argue for patron privacy, we’d better be able to make an equally compelling case that the library is not in fact the “public marketplace.” Just because the ALA says that libraries protect users’ right to privacy and confidentiality, unfortunately doesn’t give that protection any legal standing. So I ask: what law allows for attorney-client privilege? Doctor-patient privilege? Should we make a case for librarian-patron privilege? Anyone with legal training want to help me out here?

More to the point, why are librarians, whose professional training concentrates on mastering the use of the Dewey Decimal System, making any decisions that affect law enforcement? By whose authority and with what knowledge are they defining and granting constitutional rights to their patrons? Where have they received training in emergency response, domestic security, and thwarting terrorist threats?

Let us, for the moment, ignore the complete ignorance displayed here of what library education entails. The author does make a sound point about not receiving training in emergency response, etc. I suggest that we’d better start addressing these things in LIS school curricula, professional development sessions, etc., and soon.