A librarian recently asked me about this situation: Law enforcement rescue a woman from drowning, find a library card on her, and need to identify her quickly. Maybe she's at risk of dying and they want to call her next of kin. [The library tried the number and there was no answer.]
Do you turn over her name and phone number without a warrant or even a subpoena?
This is a tough one. What are readers' experiences?
I just came across a good discussion on responding to "exigent circumstances" in a sample CALEA compliance report posted at EDUCAUSE. The American Library Association has Jan 2007 guidance on CALEA here. This applies to federal wiretaps - so it's not exactly the same situation. Nevertheless, it gives food for thought.
Law enforcement doesn't need a warrant when there are exigent circumstances involving a life threatening injury. This doesn't generally require library patron records - it's more like chasing a fleeing felon. What if they need the library's cooperation, however?
The procedures that follow are geared toward federal wiretapping. From http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EPO0704.pdf page 10, at 1.3:
In certain limited situations, Law Enforcement personnel can declare that “Exigent Circumstances” exist that require that they be given access to customer information without a Subpoena or Court Order. Examples of Exigent Circumstances include kidnappings, hostage situations and other life threatening emergencies where the delay in obtaining the normal Subpoena or Court Order could result in death or serious injury. When this occurs, Law Enforcement Agencies can request that MetroPCS turn off a customer’s phone service or requests a Temporary PIN Register or Wiretap lasting up to 48 hours, without a Subpoena or Court Order. If MetroPCS field personnel receive an Exigent Circumstances request, they should immediately notify the Audit & Security Services Department to seek guidance before taking any action.
At a minimum, requests for interceptions citing Exigent Circumstances must include:
a. the information, facilities, or technical assistance required.
b. the period of time during which the provision of information, facilities, or technical assistance is authorized
c. a statement that no warrant or court order is required by law.
d. a statement that all statutory requirements have been met.
e. a statement that the specific requested assistance is required.
f. the signature of EITHER (i) the Attorney Generol of the United States, OR (ii) a law enforcement officer specially designated by the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, or by the principal prosecuting attorney of any state or subdivision thereof.