Recommended Procedures for Law Enforcement Visits


An Educational Service of the American Library Association

Office for Information Technology Policy


Prepared by Leslie Harris & Associates - in conjunction with OITP staff -



In order to protect patron privacy to the maximum extent possible, libraries should develop specific procedures for handling law enforcement requests.  The procedures should be consistent with the library's confidentiality policy and any applicable state confidentiality and public records laws. Additionally, library counsel should review the procedures before they are implemented.


A policy for interacting with law enforcement should designate the person or persons who will be responsible for handling all law enforcement requests.  In most circumstances, it should be the library director and, if available, the library's legal counsel.  The law enforcement policy should set forth specific instructions to the staff for processing the court order to ensure legal counsel validates it.  Additionally, in the case of a subpoena, the policy should include procedures for gathering the requested documents and delivering them to the law enforcement agent.  With respect to a search warrant, the policy should outline steps to enable library staff to cooperate with law enforcement and assure that the search conforms to the terms of the search warrant.  Finally, it should also outline plans to address the removal of a computer workstation or other computer storage device from the library under a court order.  The plans should address service interruptions and any necessary backups for equipment and software.


All library staff, including volunteers, should be trained on the library's procedures for handling law enforcement requests.  Specifically, library staff should be instructed to immediately ask for identification if they are approached by an agent or officer, and then refer the agent or officer to the library director or other designated officer of the institution. Library staff should also be clear that the library may only be compelled to disclose patron records if the law enforcement officer has a proper court order.  Library staff should also be instructed about the implications of the "gag order" associated with FISA warrants.


For a detailed set of guidelines for law enforcement visits, please see the ALA's "Confidentiality and Coping with Law Enforcement Inquiries:  Guidelines for the Library and its Staff." 


Further information:


American Library Association:


Safeguarding Our Patrons' Privacy: What Every Librarian Needs to Knowabout the USA PATRIOT Act & Related Anti-Terrorism Measures, Videotape (120 minutes) order from:


Department of Justice, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS)

Searching and Seizing Computers and Related Electronic Evidence Issues


Copyright 2002, American Library Association, Office for

Information Technology Policy




This Online Privacy Tutorial is a service of the American Library Association. The content of this tutorial is primarily the work of Leslie Harris & Associates in Washington, DC. The views expressed in these messages are not necessarily the views of ALA or Leslie Harris & Associates. This tutorial is for information only and will not necessarily provide answers to concerns that arise in any particular situation. This service is not legal advice and does not include many of the technical details arising under certain laws. If you are seeking legal advice to address specific privacy issues, you should consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state.