Confidentiality of Library Records

Russell D. Cole Library supports the concept of intellectual freedom and the right of each citizen, regardless of age to free access to information without fear of intimidation.

Every person shall have the right to examine and copy public records… [however] the following records shall be kept confidential unless otherwise ordered by the court, by the lawful custodian of the records, or by another person duly authorized to release such information… The records of a library which, by themselves or when examined with other public records, would reveal the identity of the library patron checking out or requesting an item or information from the library. The records shall be released to a criminal or juvenile justice agency only pursuant to an investigation of a particular person or organization suspected of committing a known crime. The records shall be released only upon a judicial determination that a rational connection exists between the requested release of information and a legitimate end and that the need for the information is cogent and compelling. The records of the library, which by themselves or when examined are public records, would reveal the identity of the library patron.
Iowa Code 22.7

In accordance with Iowa Code, the identity of which customers requested which materials or information may only be revealed if the library is presented with a court order. The court order must indicate that this information is needed for the investigation of a particular person or an organization and may only be issued after a judge has determined if the connection between the case and the record makes it cogent and compelling that the information is released.

Confidential 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.

Library Procedures Affect Confidentiality
With respect to the patron’s right to confidentiality, Cole Library strives to:

  • Avoid collecting unnecessary patron information.
  • Avoid retaining records that are not needed for efficient operation of the library.
  • Be aware of library practices and procedures that place information on public view; e.g., the use of postcards for overdue notices or requested materials, sign-in sheets to use computers or other devices, and the provision of titles of reserve requests or interlibrary loans provided over the telephone to users’ family members or answering machines.

Recommended Procedures for Law Enforcement Visits
During the visit:

  • Staff should immediately ask for identification when approached by an agent or officer, and then immediately refer the agent or officer to the College Librarian or, in her absence, to another librarian.
  • The College Librarian will meet with the agent with legal counsel, or another colleague in attendance.
  • If the agent or officer does not have a court order compelling the production of records, the College Librarian will explain the library’s confidentiality policy and the state’s confidentiality law, and inform the agent or officer that users’ records are not available except when a proper court order has been presented to the library.
  • If the agent or officer presents a court order, the College Librarian should immediately refer the court order to the College’s legal counsel or the City Attorney, as appropriate, for review.

If the court order is in the form of a subpoena:

  • Counsel should examine the subpoena for any legal defect. If a defect exists, counsel will advise on the best method to resist the subpoena.
  • Legal counsel will insist that any defect be cured before records are released and that the subpoena is strictly limited to require release of specifically identified records or documents.
  • Legal counsel require that the agent, officer, or party requesting the information submit a new subpoena in good form and without defects.
  • The librarian will review the information that may be produced in response to the subpoena before releasing the information and follow the subpoena strictly and will not provide any information that is not specifically requested in it.
  • If disclosure is required, legal counsel will ask that the court enter a protective order keeping the information confidential and limiting its use to the particular case and that access be restricted to those persons working directly on the case. In addition, legal counsel and/or the librarian will ask for an inventory of items taken.

If the court order is in the form of a search warrant:

  • A search warrant is executable immediately, unlike a subpoena. The agent or officer may begin a search of library records as soon as the library is served with the court’s order.
  • Legal counsel should examine the search warrant and assure that the search conforms to the terms of the search warrant.
  • The library staff will cooperate with the search. It is the library’s intent insofar as possible to ensure that only the records identified in the warrant are produced and that no other users’ records are viewed or scanned. The systems librarian will offer consultation as needed. In addition, legal counsel and/or the librarian will ask for an inventory of items taken.

If the search warrant is issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):

  • This warrant also contains a “gag order.” No person or institution served with the warrant can disclose that the warrant has been served or that records have been produced pursuant to the warrant.
  • The library and its staff must comply with this order. No information can be disclosed to any other party, including the patron whose records are the subject of the search warrant.
  • The gag order does not change a library’s right to legal representation during the search. The library can still seek legal advice concerning the warrant and request that legal counsel be present during the actual search and execution of the warrant.

After the visit:

  • The librarian will review the court order with legal counsel to ensure that the library complies with any remaining requirements, including restrictions on sharing information with others.
  • Review library policies and staff response and make any necessary revisions in light of experience.

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