Here’s a story about a children’s librarian, Judith Flint, at the Kimball (VT) Public Library, who on June 26 held off five state police detectives who wanted to take the library’s public access PCs. She said, ‘not without a search warrant,’ and the detectives didn’t have one. They backed down – temporarily.

The detectives were investigating the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl, and had a lead that she might have used one of the library’s PCs to leave a message on her MySpace page. The girl, it turned out, had been kidnapped and was later found dead. Police arrested her uncle, a convicted sex offender. It’s unclear right now whether the library’s PCs were involved or not.

Because the girl was in jeopardy, was Flint correct in preventing the detectives from taking the PCs? Librarians who are intellectual freedom activists say that she was:

Cybersecurity expert Fred H. Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, said the librarians acted appropriately.

“If you’ve told all your patrons `We won’t hand over your records unless we’re ordered to by a court,’ and then you turn them over voluntarily, you’re liable for anything that goes wrong,” he said.

A new Vermont law that requires libraries to demand court orders in such situations took effect July 1, but it wasn’t in place that June day. The library’s policy was to require one.

The librarians did agree to shut down the computers so no one could tamper with them, which had been a concern to police.

It’s an issue that any of us could face, any day, by surprise, when we’re in the middle of doing something far more mundane. Are we prepared to deal with it?

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