In a recent case of search and seizure, a Vermont librarian came to the rescue of her patrons’ rights to privacy. While police were searching for then missing pre-teen, Brooke Bennet, they received tips that led them to the public library in Randolph, Vermont, only without a warrant. Despite the urgency of the case, librarian Judith Flint refused the numerous police officers that arrived on the premises the permission to search through the libraries computer system. Police insist Flint should have let them begin their search counting on the fact that a warrant was on the way but her supervisor, along with the director of the American Library Association, have come to her defense.
The explanation for Flint’s actions are simple; she was upholding the promise to patrons that anything searched for on the computers or checked out of the library will be kept private unless a search warrant is presented. Police on the other hand are not as satisfied with Flint’s excuse. Although the officers received the warrant later on that day and were able to legally access the library’s computer system, they argue that such delays could hurt the chances of finding a missing person. In the case of Brooke Bennett the few extra hours did not make a difference but concerns are rising that similar conflicts may hurt the viability of future missing persons cases.
The introduction of the Patriot Act in October 2001 allows for the search and seizure of various records including those of at the library in an attempt to foil possible terrorist attack plots. The ALA has openly opposed the law since its approval and does not believe it should apply in any cases not involving a terrorist threat.
Unfortunately the conflict remains unsolved. A quicker search would not have made a difference for Brooke Bennet, but could it make a difference in the future?If so, what are the long term effects of sidestepping warrants in the name of an emergency?