Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When a Library Rebuffs the FBI

Which is greater: the privacy that we enjoy at public libraries or the might of the Federal Bureau of Investigation? The former, if the latter fails to get a search warrant.

Here's the story, which you can read in full at the Boston Herald's Website. A "terrorist" threat was emailed to Brandeis University (in Waltham, Massachusetts) from a computer at the Newton Free Library (Newton, too, is a suburb of Boston).

So the FBI burst into the Newton Free Library and demanded access to the computers, and wanted to lock down the library. The library's director sent them packing until the FBI had obtained a search warrant. By that time, the library was closed for the day and, presumably, all the terrorists had long since gone home.

I'm not sure the library I frequented in my childhood would have dared to turn away a member of the local police department, let alone a Federal agent, for any reason. Then again, when I was a kid, most of the library's patrons were there to read books or periodicals. Computers, as far as I knew, hadn't been invented then, and neither had terrorists.

At least, that's the way it seemed to me.

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