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 Procedures Responding to Law Enforcement Requests for Information

     Professional ethics require that a patron’s personal information be kept confidential.  In addition, New Jersey has a Confidentiality Law to protect citizens’ First Amendment rights.  Confidential library records should not be released or made available in any format to a federal agent, law enforcement officer, or any other person unless a court order in proper form has been entered by a court of competent jurisdiction after showing good cause by the law enforcement agency or person seeking the records.  The following procedures should be followed:



-- Immediately ask for identification, then refer the agent/officer to the Library Director or to the Board President, in the absence of the Director.

 -- The Director/Board President should meet with the agent/officer together with library counsel and another Board Trustee.

 -- If the agent/officer does not have a court order compelling the production of records, the Director/Board President should explain the State’s Confidentiality Law and inform the agent/officer that the user’s records are not to be made available except when a proper court order in good form has been presented.

-- Without a court order, neither the FBI nor local law enforcement has authority to compel cooperation with an investigation or require answers to questions, other than the name and address of the person speaking to the agent/officer.

-- If the agent persists, or makes an appeal to patriotism, the Director/Board President should explain that, as good citizens, the library staff will not respond to informal requests for confidential information, in conformity with professional ethics, First Amendment freedoms, and State law.

--If the agent/officer presents a court order, the Director/Board President should immediately refer the order to the Library’s legal counsel for review.  A court order must be signed by a judge and must be specific as to what records or computers are being requested.

--The Patriot Act includes a “gag order” which prevents the Library from informing the patron that his/her records are being sought.  Also, only Library personnel that are involved in the request should be aware of the specifics.



-- A search warrant is executable immediately, unlike a subpoena.  The agent may begin a search of Library records as soon as the Director/Board President is served with the court’s order.

-- Ask to have Library counsel present before the search begins in order to allow Library counsel the opportunity to examine the search warrant and to assure that the search conforms to the terms of the search warrant and to be sure that the court order has been entered for a good cause.

-- Cooperate with the search to ensure that only the records identified in the warrant are produced and that no other users’ records are viewed or scanned.  Gather the exact information for the agent/officer rather than letting the agent/officer look through library databases and records.



-- Library counsel should examine the subpoena for any legal defect, including the manner in which it was served on the Library, the breadth of its request, its form, and the extent of proof of showing good cause made to a court.

-- If a defect exists, Library counsel will advise on the best method to resist the subpoena.  Insist that any defect be cured before records are released and that the subpoena is strictly limited to required release of specifically identified records of documents.  Require that the agent/officer requesting the information submit a new subpoena in good form and without defects.

-- Review the information that may be produced in response to the subpoena before releasing the information.  Follow the subpoena strictly and do not provide any information that is not specifically requested in it.

-- If disclosure is required, ask the court to enter a protective order (drafted by the Library’s counsel) keeping the information confidential and limiting its use to the particular case.  Ask that access be restricted to those persons working directly on the case.


-- The recommendations for a regular search warrant still apply.  However, a search warrant issued by a FISA court also contains a “gag order.”  That means that no person or institution served with the warrant can disclose that the warrant has been served or that records have been produced pursuant to the warrant.

-- The Library and staff must comply with this order.  No information may be disclosed to any other party, including the patron whose records are the subject of the search warrant.

-- The “gag order” does not change the Library’s right to legal representation during the search.  The Library may still seek legal advice concerning the warrant and request that the Library’s legal counsel be present during the actual search and execution of the warrant.



-- Obtain a receipt for any records or computers turned over to the agent/officer.




Approved by Montvale Library Board of Trustees:  5/22/2003

Last modified June 30, 2017

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