The Frederick News Post reported Sunday that FBI agents seized two computers from one of the Frederick County, Maryland, public libraries this weekend.
Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County Public Libraries, said two FBI employees came to the downtown Frederick library either Wednesday or Thursday. The agents removed two public computers from the library's second floor. They told him they were taking the units back to their office in Washington, D.C., Batson said.
While this isn't terribly remarkable, especially given that Frederick County is home to all sorts of government types on whom the FBI would gladly keep a watchful eye, usually such a seizure is accompanied by a warrant. According to Batson,
This was the third time in his 10 years with FCPL that the FBI has come to the library seeking records, Batson said. It was the first time they came without a court order.
The library's procedure for such requests usually requires a court order, however after the agent described the case and the situation, he was persuaded to give them access, Batson said.
This isn't meant to be a judgment of Batson by any means; however, I don't know if I would have done the same thing. In a public institution like a library or a school, the government certainly has some purview, but we also have a responsibility to protect the privacy of our students and teachers (or patrons, in the case of a library). Without at least a warrant and/or some serious legal advice from district counsel, I don't have a good feeling that I would be doing my job if I simply handed over machines to the Feds.
What do you think?