Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act) on October 25, 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This law greatly expanded federal law surveillance and investigative powers. Of concern to public libraries are library records, including patron files and electronic communications.
The Mississippi Code addresses the confidentiality of library user records in §39-3-365. MLC contacted the Office of the Attorney General for clarification and the following statement is excerpted from the original:
As your paperwork clearly reflects, there is no conflict between Section 39-3-365, and the USA Patriot Act. Our state provision has in essence been expanded to require the release of the confidential records at issue when the library has been served with a search warrant. The bottom line, all search warrants and court orders must be honored unless withdrawn by the court.
The wisest course of action is for library systems to be prepared to handle such an occurrence. Proper procedures should be installed to handle this possibility. These procedures should cover chain of command, notifications, etc. Library systems must comply with legally issued subpoenas or warrants. Library personnel should know the difference between the following two legal documents and act accordingly.
Warrant – a document directing or authorizing someone to do an act, especially an order for arrest, search or seizure. A warrant is immediately executed.
Subpoena – to order the production of documents or other things.
The Office of Government Relations, part of the American Library Association’s Washington Office, is tasked with “a broad range of issues including, but not limited to: appropriations, copyright, library programs, government information, privacy, and telecommunications.” This oversight includes monitoring the USA PATRIOT Act on behalf of libraries across the country and making recommendations to protect privacy and confidentiality of library and patron records regardless of format. Please see the 2016 Privacy/Surveillance/Cybersecurity Fact Sheet for more information.