Friday, October 30, 2009

Stop Snitching?

Librarians ain't snitches. But should they be?

According to this story, some cops in New York wanted the Hendrick Hudson Free Library to help them gather evidence on a man accused of accessing child pornography on library computers. But the library is refusing to assist in the investigation.

Linda Berns, director of the Lower Hudson Valley chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, "There is some expectation of privacy in a library. Librarians have a very strong code of privacy and individual rights."
The police say the library board is not cooperating. But the police have the perp's identity and the computer he was using, so I'm not sure what other cooperation they expect. The director admits that the library board refuses to cooperate, but I'm still not sure how. Obviously, there isn't enough evidence for the police to get a warrant without the library's help.

Police say that an "astute librarian" turned in the alleged offender. And library patrons feel that these scumbags should be caught, but what can happen sometimes when librarians snitch?

In Tulare County, Calif., a librarian at the Lindsay Branch Library was discharged by her supervisor last year after she called authorities about a man who apparently was viewing child pornography on a library computer.
So librarians can be punished for reporting criminal activity in the library? Okay, maybe just in California.

Viewing child pornography is considered possession, whether a person looks at it on a computer or downloads the images, the Westchester County District Attorney's Office said. It's a felony, punishable by up to four years in state prison.
Yes, library users have some expectation of privacy. But that should only be in combination with the library user's desire for privacy. I can't pretend that I don't see you looking at child porn when your computer monitor is in the open for everyone to see. And yes, we have "porn" computers. All libraries do. Ours are over there under the poster of a scary monster touching himself that says, "No Children Allowed."

And this has always been my problem with the Internet. Computers, by their design, are not private. You are sitting in front of a 17-inch monitor. If you wanted privacy with what you were doing, you wouldn't be broadcasting it on 140 square inches of LCD flat screen in front of fifty strangers.

Maybe you want to be caught? And as a librarian, I should help you to find what you want.

But librarians are screwed regardless. If we turn people in, we get criticized or even fired for violating privacy. And if we do nothing, our family users will cease visiting because our libraries will become safe havens for monsters.

So can we make a deal? I won't tell the cops what you do as long as you don't force me to tell the cops what you do. But if I get the chance, for damn sure, I am telling your mom.