Privacy Main Issue At Stake In Library Suit, Attorney Says
While a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping the Santa Clarita libraries within the County Library system continues to subpoena former and present City officials in an ongoing lawsuit, the attorney assigned to the matter, Donald Ricketts, maintains that unwarranted access to the public’s information is the primary issue.
“What the lawsuit says is you can’t put the library into the hands of a private company,” Ricketts said, “because to do so you would have to give them information which is confidential and which they need to run the library.”
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After City Council voted 4-1 on August 24 to secede from the County of Los Angeles Public Library – and inevitably award a contract to Library Systems and Services, LLC to run the City’s three branches – 12 people sent a letter to City Council alleging a Brown Act violation had occurred.
Essentially, the Brown Act prevents California governmental bodies from holding secret workshops and study sessions where decisions concerning the public could be made without its attendance.
According to Ricketts, the recent subpoenas of former City Council member TimBen Boydston and current Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez might produce some information that would support a Brown Act case.
A Thursday morning report stating that City Clerk Sarah Gorman had been subpoenaed as well was incorrect, Ricketts said.
“She was simply accepting service on behalf of Hernandez and she said she was authorized to do so,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ricketts stressed that what a Santa Clarita citizen should worry about is the potential access an outside company will have to some of his or her most valuable information.
“That’s the point that somehow hasn’t gotten across,” he said. “Somebody who has that information has got a big leg up if they want to do identity theft.”
An application for a County Library card asks for one’s driver’s license number, residence address and the last four digit’s of one’s social security number. Ricketts believes LSSI will ask for the same information.
Ricketts is also concerned about the effect marketers will have accessing the trove of information could be made available by LSSI.
“What you check out from the library tells a whole lot about what you think or what you like or what your interests are,” he said. “The library information would be highly valuable to outside marketers, and I don’t think the library patron wants that.”
Ricketts agreed that LSSI could simply draw up a contract where a prospective patron agrees to give up his or her information.
“Nobody reads the fine print. I’m sure that thousands of people would sign those applications without reading them because that’s what people do,” he said. “It puts the patron between a rock and a hard place – use the library and you have to give up your private information.”
On Monday, the City and LSSI officially agreed to a five-year $19.1 million contract, to begin in July of next year when LSSI assumes operation of the Valencia, Canyon Country and Newhall libraries.
The City has until mid-November to respond to the lawsuit by Save Our Library, the group Ricketts is representing.
“You have a right as a citizen to use the public libraries,” he said. “Can they condition your right to use those libraries on the giving up of private information? That’s what I think is wrong.”