How did authorities monitor library computer use by suspected bomb maker?

Wednesday’s news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, detailing a criminal complaint against a Michigan man accused of planning to make Molotov cocktails and bomb the Xcel Center, carried this paragraph:


The affidavit states that DePalma went to the Hennepin County Library on August 18 and spent 90 minutes researching recipes for explosive devices. DePalma produced a handwritten list of items he would need to construct “special” Molotov cocktails that would stick to people and other targets.

How did authorities get the information about Matthew DePalma’s activity while online using a Hennepin County Library computer?

“All I can tell you is what’s in the affadavit,” said David Anderson, a public affairs specialist for the Department of Justice. The affadavit didn’t say.

Did the library monitor, and then turn over, records of the computer’s use to authorities?” The Hennepin County Library and its employees had nothing to do with it,” said Stacy A. Opitz, a spokeswoman for the library.

That could mean it was something as simple as someone watching what DePalma was doing.

Under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, libraries can only turn over information about patrons with a court order. The Patriot Act allows monitoring of electronic (or other) activities of patrons in libraries,something to which the American Library Association has objected. Some libraries, according to the ALA, are destroying computer access records on a regular basis to avoid complying.

But in this case, there’s no clear indication how authorities monitored the library’s computer.

  • Paul Koepp

    A person is apphrehended planning to kill people and all you care about is “did the investigators follow the right procedures?”

    Unbelievable…

  • Matthew Hardy

    how do you know he was planning on killing someone? news articles can be misleading in the way they word things. information can be left out and things can be worded to make you feel certain ways.

  • JohnnyZoom

    Just a thought. I haven’t use a library computer in more than a decade (and wouldn’t now for more than the most banefully innocuous things), so this may be naive. But just maybe did the investigators simply sit down at the computers and rummage through the support files (cookies, etc.) for the browser?

  • Bob Collins

    That would seem like a logical conclusion.

  • I can’t tell from your story, but perhaps after he was arrested and he had the hand written list on him they asked him where he got it. And then said “Yeah all I had to do was go down to the library 2 weeks ago for an hour and a half and here’s the list”.

    Since this was not the arrest or warrant (at least from what I can tell) but regardless, the other most likely is the undercover officers where with him at the library or he told undercover officers. One thing about folks like this A hole is they can not keep there mouths closed, they have to prove they are smarter than everyone else.

    The truly scary ones are the Ted Kaczynski’s of the world, never talking to anyone. Just lucky that most people minds are still hard wired for the basic needs and use any action to fill those basic needs. (I am sure we will find out he was trying to impress some girls)

  • bob

    You’re right, Matthew Hardy. I’m sure he was making napalm so that he could grill chicken.

  • Marilyn Cathcart

    Paul Koepp: We all should be concerned that the laws of the country are followed whether they relate to illegal acts or to the privacy of information. The Data Practices Act and the Patriot Act are laws that we cannot just choose to ignore because it is inconvenient to follow them.

  • Ed

    ” But just maybe did the investigators simply sit down at the computers and rummage through the support files (cookies, etc.) for the browser?”

    But in order to do that they would have to have the cooperation of Hennepin County Library personnel.

  • jml

    In my experience, librarians as a group are fiercely protective of patrons’ rights to privacy.

    In the world of he USA-PATRIOT Act, there exists a legal investigatory document called a National Security Letter, which compels not only cooperation with an investigation (such as in disclosure of information relevant to an investigation), but also forbids disclosure of the cooperation to any party, or even the existence of the investigation or indeed of the existence or receipt of such a letter.

    Whether such a document, or some other more pedestrian search warrant or subpoena was involved in this investigation is unclear from the published reports and statements.

    Wikipedia hosts a page describing National Security Letters, as do numerous other sources.

  • Elizabeth T.

    Mr. Koepp wrote:

    A person is apprehended planning to kill people and all you care about is “did the investigators follow the right procedures?”

    the assurance that the investigators followed the right procedures is of ultimate concern. If they didn’t, the criminal will “walk”. A good defense attorney’s will get any and all evidence disqualified. Failure to follow procedures gets evidence thrown out, no matter how valuable.

    I assure you, this question is not moot, nor is it splitting hairs.

  • Bob Collins

    //A person is apprehended planning to kill people and all you care about is “did the investigators follow the right procedures?”

    Is there another way the Constitution of the United States is defended, protected, and upheld?

    If so, what is it?

  • HCLLibrarian

    ” But just maybe did the investigators simply sit down at the computers and rummage through the support files (cookies, etc.) for the browser?”

    “However, according to the FBI affidavit submitted August 29 to the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, a warrant was unnecessary: DePalma was accompanied to the library by a confidential source who first met him in July at the CrimeThinc Convergence meeting (held to plan disrupting the RNC) and who feigned friendship to observe DePalma.”

    Source: http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2008/september2008/rncbombsuspect.cfm