Thursday, July 24, 2008

privacy and security

Here's another stumper for the files. A librarian, surrounded by large police officers searching for a missing girl, asked for a warrant when they tried to seize a computer. And she stuck to her guns.

A missing girl is serious, and it's not hard to see that time is of the essence. But like most states, Vermont has a law protecting library records. I am not sure if they have a law enabling phone warrants in an emergency, but many states do - basically, you get a judge to sign off fast and do the paperwork later.

To my mind, not getting a warrant is risky if you're expecting to prosecute someone successfully. If the evidence were thrown out, so would any evidence arising from the search as "fruit of the poisonous tree." You have to balance speed with the very real need to not just respect the Constitution, but to build a case that can lead to conviction.

I think librarians need to do more than talk about privacy and slippery slopes to explain why a librarian would refuse to help police in a case like this. It's not self-evident to everyone that privacy is important at all when a child's safety is at risk - and we run the risk of sounding like rule-bound twits.

It's something to think about. How would you handle a situation like this? And how would you explain your decision in a way that even skeptics could understand?

No comments: