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USA Patriot Act and Madison Public Library Records

See also Board Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Library Users

HR-3162, known as the USA Patriot Act, became Public Law 107-56 in response to the events of 9/11/01. The full title of the law is: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. For information on the 2005 Reauthorization see: USA PATRIOT IMPROVEMENT AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005

The Act provides law enforcement broader boundaries when investigating information accessed and transmitted by patrons with regards to national security concerns. The law provides federal officials the authority to conduct searches of business records, including library and bookstore records, with a court order issued by a federal court, and requires that, if such a search is conducted, no one involved will divulge that the search has taken place.

The confidentiality of patron's library use is taken very seriously by public libraries. As a result of the USA Patriot Act, public libraries face a dilemma of having the responsibility of protecting the privacy of library users while responding to legitimate national security concerns. Madison Public Library recognizes the confidentiality of information sought or received and materials consulted, borrowed or acquired by a library user, and that is reflected in Madison Public Library Confidentiality Policy revised March, 2003, as follows:

All Madison Public Library circulation and other records which indicate the identity of library users, especially as they connect library users with material or services used, are confidential. This confidentiality extends to information sought or received, including library materials consulted or borrowed, database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, registration records and all other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities or services.
Such information may not be disclosed, except to:
  1. Persons acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library or library system.
  2. An agency or individual or any local, state or federal government, pursuant to a process, subpoena or court order authorized pursuant to a federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, administrative or legislative investigative power. Library staff will seek legal counsel from the City Attorney's Office in the event of such request for release of library records, and will respond to the request according to advice of counsel.
  3. Persons authorized by the individual to inspect the individual's record.

The policy cites Wisconsin Statute 43.30, Public Library Records, and a statement from the American Library Association on release of records. (Print copies of either of these will be made available upon request.)

Madison Public Library Records and the USA Patriot Act:

Madison Public Library has in place guidelines regarding information access and confidentiality for specific library records, which include the following:

  1. The Library does not retain records of individual user activity with personally identifiable information except those required for the efficient operation of the Library, in accordance with WI Statute 43.30.
  2. The Library does not create unnecessary records containing a user's personally identifiable information - except those required for the efficient operation of the Library.

Specific existing library records:

Search Records: Data about LINKcat online catalog searches records only the number of searches performed, not the content of searches. The library also does not retain search records of other databases, such as newspaper, magazine, company information or financial databases, licensed by the library or library system. Some of these online databases allow for customers to set up their own account with the database and save search records. These accounts are optional, and not maintained by, accessible by, or monitored by Madison Public Library or South Central Library System.

Circulation Records: Data matching items with patrons is stored on the LINKcat system while the material is checked out to the patron. When an item is returned and any fees and fines are paid, it is removed from the borrower's file but a link from the item to the borrower is maintained until the item is loaned to the next borrower, or 30 days elapse.

Our new LINKcat allows for an optional "reading history" to be saved which lists all items a customer has checked out. The reading history can be turned on or off at any time at the request of the customer and is subject to our Confidentiality Policy like all library records.

Copies of the operating system, application software and databases, and transaction records of the LINKcat and the library's integrated library system are stored on backup media. Nightly backups are stored for one month. The information is retained in the event that a catastrophic hardware or software failure would require restoration of software or data files.

Home Service Circulation Records: Records are kept of books checked out and delivered to those physically unable to come to the library who use the volunteer supported home delivery program. These records allow staff to provide new titles for the patron. The maintenance of these records is required in order to serve the participants in this special program.

Computer Use Records: Software is used to manage the high demand for Internet access in our libraries. Internet users enter their library card, or an Internet-access card, to reserve a computer. Reservation information is retained for ten days. Patron information is then deleted unless a customer is not allowed to use library computers - in that case, a record remains until use privileges are reinstated.

Outerlibrary Loan Records: Patrons may borrow items not owned by South Central Library System libraries from other libraries worldwide via Outerlibrary Loan (OLL). Madison Public Library tracks items being borrowed and a record with patron information. These records are kept for one year.

Reference Interviews: A reference interview occurs when a patron looking for information approaches library staff and staff interacts with the patron in order to narrow down the specific information needed. No paper record is kept during the interview that has any patron information on it. If a patron name and number is taken by phone, and patron information is written down, as soon as the requested information is delivered, the paper record is destroyed.

For more information: The American Library Association has posted information on the USA Patriot Act and libraries. The Department of Homeland Security's site has more information (Search by "USA Patriot").