By JEFFREY M. BARKER, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
August 12. 2002
KENT — Someone in the library, huddled close to a computer screen, was viewing images of child pornography.
There was a witness. A librarian was notified. Printouts of some of the images were left behind.
Police were called, and a detective seized two computers.
But now Kent police detectives are barred from investigating further — stymied by a legal battle over the privacy of library users and the bounds of police authority.
The King County Library System sued the Kent Police Department. The library system maintains that the detective violated constitutional protections against illegal search by seizing the two computers when he didn’t have a search warrant.
And the library system says police investigators will violate the privacy rights of library users by combing through the information in those computers.
The lawsuit puts the country’s third-largest library system in the odd position of protecting someone who downloaded child pornography onto its computers.
“The library isn’t defending pornography or child pornography here,” said Paul Kundtz, the attorney representing the libraries. “We want to tell the Police Department that it must follow the law — and more importantly, ‘Don’t do this again.’”
The suit puts new emphasis on timely topics, such as Internet filtering software, police conduct and the responsibilities of municipal workers — those President Bush would call “frontline patriots” — to report crimes.
To Kent police, though, the issue is much simpler: Protect the welfare of victimized children.
The department maintains that the detective aimed only to find out who was looking at the child pornography and to preserve evidence in a possible felony case.
“Child pornography is absolutely not protected under the First Amendment. Period,” said Kent Deputy City Attorney Arthur Pat Fitzpatrick.
This dispute isn’t the first of its kind.
In July 2000, two teenage girls saw a man masturbating in front of a library computer in Hanrahan, La.
When library officials refused to turn over computer sign-up logs, police shut the library down and seized a computer terminal. A 38-year-old man with another pending obscenity charge was arrested the next day.
In 1999, Los Angeles detectives arrested a registered sex offender who maintained a child pornography Web site using computers at the main branch of the L.A. library.
And in some suburban Atlanta libraries, viewing pornography has become so popular that libraries arrange computer terminals so they are in plain view. The thinking goes that such a move would prevent patrons from looking up illegal or offensive material.
Attorneys for the Kent Police Department say some libraries estimate that 20 to 25 percent of patrons use computers to access pornography.
In its suit, the King County Library System says the detective illegally seized two computers, and that investigators would be violating the privacy of library users if they sifted through the information stored on those computers.
In a hearing in U.S. District Court in Seattle this morning, Kundtz will ask that the computers be returned to the library.
No search warrant
On May 31, Kent police were called to an argument between a husband and wife.
The woman told police she had found printouts of child pornography in a stack of her husband’s papers.
The man told police that earlier in the day, he’d sat down at a Kent Regional Library computer immediately after another man finished with it.
When the man tried to print his own work, the pornography came out of the shared printer, he said.
About a month later, on June 22, the woman’s husband returned to the library and saw the same man, again looking at illegal images, he said.
So he notified a librarian.
About a week later, Kent Detective Wayne Himple asked for the names of all library patrons who had accessed the Internet on May 31. His request was denied by library staff.
On July 9, Himple returned to the library and seized two computers he believed to have been used to access the pornography.
Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Libraries-vs-police-in-a-suit-sparked-by-porn-1093410.php#ixzz1m0NJf4zj