Section 215 (Full text of Section 215) of the U.S. Patriot Act (PDF Version of US Patriot Act) gives the FBI authority to seize “any tangible thing” including books, records, papers and documents from businesses or organizations in connection with “an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” As a general rule libraries and librarians must comply with federal grand jury subpoenas, federal search warrants, and other federal court orders. Furthermore, “those to whom the order is directed are required to comply and are forbidden to disclose the existence or specifics of the order.” (Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, Feb. 26, 2003)
Library customers’ records and records of Internet computer use, including the hard drive itself, are among the items that are subject to investigation by the FBI. Library staff are prohibited from informing anyone that information about their borrowing record or computer use has been given to the FBI.
Only items currently checked out, or that have outstanding fines, are attached to customer records. The Ocean County Library automated circulation system does not retain ongoing lists of materials borrowed by individuals. When the customer returns library materials (and pays any outstanding fines), that individual’s record is wiped clean.