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The majority of states, including Utah, provide specific statutorily laws addressing the issue of privacy. What information is public? What information is private? The Utah Code specifically states in section 63-2-302 what records are considered private. Section C of section 63-2-302 reads, “records of publicly funded libraries that when examined alone or with other records identify a person,” are considered private records. This would include library card application information, checkout information, overdue notices, any circulation history kept in the computer in a patron’s record, and even computer sign up sheets that may identify the user.
In contrast, Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (known as GRAMA) establishes a “presumption of openness” in regards to governmental records. GRAMA provides that unless a statute expressly restricts the public’s access to a record held by a Utah governmental agency (such as in section 63-2-302 of the Utah Code), the public may inspect and copy that record. So what library records are open to the public? Records such as library board minutes and agendas, purchase records, employee salaries, job descriptions and qualifications, and certain planning documents must be accessible. This applies to public, higher education, school, and government agency libraries. It is very important that libraries, which do receive a request to examine records, consult GRAMA before responding to the request. GRAMA not only classifies various kinds of records, it also sets deadlines for responding to the request. GRAMA also imposes penalties on agencies that fail to respond properly to requests.
How does the USA Patriot Act impact all of this? In a nutshell, if used by the appropriate agencies, the USA Patriot Act supercedes GRAMA and any other state laws protecting patron records. Requests for patron information made under the USA Patriot Act must come from the FBI. The requests are not valid if coming from state/local agencies. Although it is incumbent upon us as professionals to protect and defend patron confidentiality and privacy, we need to balance these principles with our obligations to federal law. The ALA provides excellent information on the USA Patriot Act on it’s website: www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/usapatriotact.html Also be sure to read the section in this manual on the USA Patriot Act for more specifics on how to handle requests from the FBI for patron information.