I went to a terrific High Tech Crime Investigation Association conference for Silicon Valley today. It continues tomorrow and Thurs. It's on Internet crime and is aimed at law enforcement and security professionals. At one session, a police officer who works with child predators and child pornography gave examples of criminals going to cybercafes and libraries to get anonymous computer access. He said that not all libraries use filters, and implied that they could help solve this problem if they did.
I went up to him afterwards, explaining that virtually every librarian I've talked to about this would use filters --in a heartbeat-- if they could screen out child porn without blocking other websites. For example librarylaw.com gets blocked, and I suppose now this blog does too. (I use the words "child porn." And think about poor Dick Armey...) Problem is there aren't any filters that can handle this. He seemed to think there are such filters, or there could be if folks really put their minds to it. I suppose if a company relied wholly on human verification of sites, it's theoretically possible (using an 'I know it when I see it' rather than a strictly legal definition) . We only talked about child porn, not obscenity or harmful to minors sites.
We also talked about internet sign up records, and he was interested to hear more about the library point of view. He said he might include a slide or two in his next presentation if I sent him some info.
I'm planning on sending him an email to let him know what I think librarians would like law enforcement to know, namely:
1-I'm told time and again by librarians that law enforcement comes in and simply is unaware that there are state laws protecting library records. The ALA has links to state laws. It would help libraries a lot if law enforcement knew this before they come in.
2-Since libraries are "innocent third parties," the need for a rushed timeframe may not be necessary. Give libraries some warning before executing a search warrant, or grant them a delay before executing it so that the front line person (who probably isn't trained in handling such an event) can call on the library director/attorney - and also the tech person who can help the officer retrieve the data. If there's a concern about disappearing evidence, libraries will preserve evidence on request (and are legally bound to do so).
3-Bottom line: librarians want to follow the law. If there's suspicion that a patron is looking at child porn, use legal process before seizing computers or library patron records. Look at the King County (WA) Library case. Local police seized two library computers as part of a child pornography investigation -- without a warrant. The library sued the police and the court ruled for the library. The law in Washington does not allow police to search library computers without legal process. The library's attorney, Paul Kundtz, put it succinctly:
All he would have had to do is get a court to issue a search warrant," said Kundtz. "The library would happily have obeyed the warrant."... "No one wants to protect child pornographers," Kundtz said. "But we do have constitutional rights and constitutional rules that are worth preserving.
According to the King County library board minutes, Aug 28, 2002:
[Library Board President] Jim Grayson said KCLS has received acclaims on how it has handled this arena in the past and it has never been KCLS’ intent to not work with the police. Chad Morse asked, ‘then, would it be fair to note success if the patron cannot print out any pornography. He said he is concerned about this. Bill Ptacek said he would like to clarify this on behalf of the Board. Bill noted that child pornography is patently illegal and staff knows it is. If a patron is observed viewing child pornography, staff can and will intervene. He said staff has called the police in instances where this has occurred. We are vigilant as we can be. As long as the police operate in a lawful manner (i.e. requesting information with proper documentation), we will work unreservedly with them.
If you have any additional or conflicting thoughts, please comment or email me and I'll pass them along. He trains law enforcement around the country.
Maybe I'll also send him to Lori Ayre's excellent libraryfiltering.org site. Her new comprehensive article is out now, by the way in Library Technology Reports, March-April 2004 v40 i2 p1(78) Filtering and filter software. It's not on the web, but it is available to anyone with a library card and PIN if your library subscribes to Infotrac
Expanded Academic - I just checked and the fulltext is there. I saw it on the shelf in a library the other day, and it is impressive.