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Library will warn patrons on privacy

The Bainbridge Library is warning patrons that the federal government may be reading over their shoulders.

The Kitsap Regional Library Board of Trustees voted May 28 voted to post a warning in KRL branches to counter provisions of the USA Patriot Act – an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” – that allow government agents to review library records without demonstrating “probable cause.”

“Our primary concern is the change in due process,” KRL Director Ellen Newberg said. “We really do regard our trust with our patrons as privileged information.”

While KRL has occasionally seen law enforcement turn up with a warrant in hand – Newberg cites tracing library books found in a stolen car, for an example – opening access to patrons’ records without strong suspicion of a specific crime infringes on patron’s right to privacy, the board believes.

“Libraries have a long and strong tradition of respect for privacy,” Newberg said. “That has always been a library value.”

And a matter of law: Prior to the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001, library records have been held confidential in Washington state.

The act permits a government agent to obtain not only books and library card records, but also electronic records in computer hard drives, disks and data tapes.

Librarians fear that search warrants and subpoenas will be issued wholesale.

The board passed a resolution condemning the act’s infringement of the right to privacy of library patrons.

The resolution echoes a sweeping condemnation of the act passed May 25 by the Bainbridge Island City Council.

The library resolution also opposes the so-called “gag order” provision of the act that makes it a crime for librarians to inform patrons that their records have been requested, or bring the matter to public attention.

The vote came after several months of board discussion, and participation of KRL deputy director Carol Schuyler in seminars on the Patriot Act co-sponsored by five national library associations.

“The board did not rush into this,” Newberg said.

The warning gives library patrons a heads-up that they might choose not to leave a paper trail by checking out a particular book, but, instead, research in the library.

“We don’t see it as aiding and abetting terrorists, just making people aware,” Newberg said. “People might want to read up on bankruptcy or divorce.

“There are all kinds of private matters they might not want the neighbors to know about.”

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The Kitsap Regional Library notice reads:

“WARNING: Although the Kitsap Regional Library makes every effort to protect your privacy, under the federal USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56), records of books and other materials you borrow from this library may be obtained by federal agents. Further, federal law prohibits library personnel from informing you if federal agents have obtained records about you.”

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