The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department confiscated Brainerd Public Library computers last Friday in an ongoing investigation.
Wednesday, Marian Ridge, Kitchigami Regional Library System director, said nine computers were confiscated when law enforcement officials arrived at the library just before 5 p.m. Friday. Computers used for Internet and e-mail access were confiscated along with those used for library catalog access. Three computers for the catalog access were returned. The central processing units, or the computer's brain, are still in law enforcement officials' hands for the other four computers.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Dick Ross said the computers were seized as part of a criminal investigation in which a person was using the Internet at the library to stalk an individual.
"There's no one in custody, yet. We're just putting the case together," Ross said, adding he believed the suspect used the library computers thinking he could maintain his anonymity. "He didn't think he could be tracked that way."
Though he couldn't elaborate on the incident because it's under investigation, Ross said it was a serious situation because the suspect was stalking both by computer and in person. No one had been taken into custody as of today.
Ridge said she was not sure when the library Internet access would be restored. Ross said the computers could be held until a trial, if there were to be one, concluded.
"We hope to get them back soon," Ridge said, although she noted investigations and court proceedings can be lengthy. The library system does not have back-up machines to use in the meantime.
Ridge, Kitchigami system director since 1999, said she was not aware of another case where the system's computers were seized. There are 10 libraries in the Kitchigami system, nine branch offices and one mobile unit. Ridge said the complaint did not begin with the library itself. While they had some indication an investigation was proceeding, Ridge said they were unaware the computers would be confiscated until the sheriff's department served a warrant. Ridge was unaware the investigation dealt with stalking.
Though this incident doesn't deal with pornography or terrorism, the Brainerd Public Library Internet computers have been equipped with filters for about a year. Filters use key words to limit access to Internet sites. However, Ridge said filters are not guaranteed to block every site and may in fact block legitimate ones. A common example in discussion of filters based on key words includes unwarranted blocks on medical sites, such as those for breast cancer. Ridge said a breast cancer Internet search was not blocked. And the library has a protocol in place to access legitimate Web sites that may be blocked.
Ridge said she does not know whether the filters would affect part of the investigation.
"It could be anything," she said.
The library's Internet computers are a popular attraction, so popular that reservations are used to block time. Ridge said the computers are in use nearly continuously and the No. 1 complaint from library patrons comes from not being able to get time on the machines.
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