Question: How does the Federal USA Patriot Act affect your right to privacy as a user of the Chelmsford Public Library?

The Patriot Act of 2001 may provide federal law enforcement broader boundaries when investigating information accessed and transmitted by patrons with regards to national security. Access to patron information may include: Database records, circulation records, interlibrary loan records, and reference interview.

The full USA PATRIOT Act (HR3162 became Public Law 107-56 on October 24, 2001) is several hundred pages long. However, only a few sections are relevant to a library.

Section 215, "Access to records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)" enables FBI agents to request "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." That includes library records. To obtain such materials, the FBI needs a search warrant from a judge. The warrant itself does not have to disclose the reasons it was requested, and people who receive such a search warrant are not allowed to reveal that the FBI "has sought or obtained tangible things under this section."

Section 216, "Modification of authorities relating to use of pen registers and trap and trace devices," extends telephone monitoring laws to include information related to Internet traffic, including e-mail addresses, IP addresses and URLs for web pages.

Chelmsford Public Library policy regarding patron information

Librarians' professional ethics require that personally identifiable information about library users be kept confidential.

"[librarians] protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired, or transmitted." (Article III of Code of Ethics of the American Library Association)

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has laws protecting the confidentiality of library records. Chapter 78: Section 7 of the Massachusetts General Laws states "That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record." Under state law, library records should not be released or made available in any format to a federal agent, law enforcement officer, or other person unless a court order in proper form has been entered by a court of competent jurisdiction after a showing of good cause by the law enforcement agency or person seeking the records. A federal subpoena or search warrant under the Patriot Act specifically supersedes state confidentiality laws.

The Chelmsford Public Library understands the efforts of the United States Federal government to protect American freedoms and will comply with any Federal warrant. We are committed to protecting a patron's right to information. The Chelmsford Public Library, therefore, gathers and retains only enough personal information to insure the smooth operation of library functions (see Disclosure of Personal Information Retained by the Chelmsford Public Library).

July 21, 2003