ACLU of Massachusetts Applauds Librarian for Standing Up to Warrantless Seizure of Library Computers

January 25, 2006 12:00 am

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BOSTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today applauded the Mayor of Newton and its library director for requiring law enforcement authorities to comply with the basic requirements of the Fourth Amendment before seizing public library computers and the information they contain.

“The librarian acted responsibly and in accordance with legal and constitutional requirements,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “She was complying with the law, and we expect police officers and the FBI to do the same.”

The situation arose on January 18 when police and FBI officials attempted to take custody of computers at the Newton Free Library without a warrant. The officials claimed that a threat to Brandeis University had been sent from one of the 21 computers at the library, but the head librarian refused to honor their request without a warrant, as required under the Fourth Amendment. The police returned to the library later in the evening after they had obtained the required warrant.

“Clearly, after 9/11, there should have been a procedure in place to ensure that law enforcement could promptly obtain a search warrant in an emergency situation,” said Rose. “In a situation like this, the answer is not to simply shelve the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but to create an expedited process for obtaining search warrants. We can address security concerns without surrendering basic constitutional rights.”

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