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LIbrarian has reservations about helping FBI

Earlier this month, someone e-mailed a bomb threat to Bradeis University, a rather liberal liberal-arts college (with a strong Jewish tradition) outside Boston. In response, officials evacuated several buildings and an elementary school, but no bombs were found.

The e-mailed threat was traced back to Newton, Massachusetts. More specifically, publicly-accessible computers at Newton's library. The FBI, interested in having a chat with the person who sent the threat, went to the library to see if there was anything incriminating on the computer in question.

Where they were blocked by a librarian, who would not let them touch the computers in question without a warrant.

Nine hours later, the warrant arrived and the computers were hauled off.

Now, I'm no jack-booted fascist, but it occurs to me that if one is using a public computer, one pretty much forfeits any expectation of privacy. In fact, every public computer I've ever used has disclaimers and warnings plastered all over it saying words to the effect that you have about much right to privacy using this computer as you do when you sign on to be on "Big Brother."

But I feel so much safer. If I ever feel like violating some laws or something via computer, I'll be sure to go to the library. Especially the one in Newton, Massachusetts.


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Comments (54)

To search you have to get a... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

To search you have to get a warrant. That's the law. Very simple. Librarian wanted to comply with the law.

When I was in library schoo... (Below threshold)
JohnAnnArbor:

When I was in library school, pre-Sept. 11, we were asked what if a patron asked us for information on making bombs.

I jokingly answered "how big a hole do you want?"

That was judged pretty much correct. I remember saying that I felt no obligation to help some miscreant blow something up. Someone responded that I was judging what information they could get. My retort: I doubt if Larry Flynt gave the library five subscriptions to "Hustler" (five to be sure one's always available in the kids area) that the library would actually stock the magazine. So they can't pretend there are no limits on what the library distributes. Yet they like to pose like they do, mainly for their friends.

To search you h... (Below threshold)

To search you have to get a warrant. That's the law. Very simple. Librarian wanted to comply with the law.

Wow, next time I need an excuse to be a major asshat to the federal police when they're trying to track down terrorists who want to destroy me and everything I represent, I'll remember that one. Thanks.

To search you have... (Below threshold)
kbiel:
To search you have to get a warrant. That's the law.

You missed one huge qualifier: To search without consent you have to get a warrant.

Librarian wanted to comply with the law.

All the librarian had to do was give consent to have the computers searched. That also would have been legal. If consent had been given, the FBI would have looked through the logs to see if any evidence was available. When and if the evidence was found, then the FBI would have taken only one computer. Instead, this librarian had to be an ass and the FBI seized three computers. If I were the city, I would fire this person for costing the city money.

Many years ago, I read abou... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Many years ago, I read about a Romanian immigrant who received a speeding ticket. When he went to traffic court, he insisted on a hearing to contest the ticket. Eventually, the judge, the police officer, and the prosecutor all came together for a hearing, where the Romanian immigrant promptly admitted he was speeding. When he was asked why he wanted the hearing, he said, "Where I come from, I didn't have the right to ask for a hearing."

--|PW|--

"You missed one huge qualif... (Below threshold)
tyree:

"You missed one huge qualifier: To search without consent you have to get a warrant."

It is amazing how often legal citations are used incorrectly in this country. All the librarian had to do to help the investigation into domestic terrorism was say "yes" and 9 hours could have been saved.

Today in the news we find out that eight terrorists got phony passports in Columbia, and an uniformed librarian in Massachusetts is being treated as a hero by some people for holding up a terrorist investigation.

Some of them are not just against the war, they are on the other side.

Kbiel GREAT JOB. oleg don't... (Below threshold)
Drew:

Kbiel GREAT JOB. oleg don't you feel like a idiot now! I'm sick of people who "qoute" the law when they don't have a clue. keep posting though you make me laugh.

That librarian is damn luck... (Below threshold)

That librarian is damn lucky I am not the Agent in charge, because I would have hauled away every single computer within the facility, including the server.

No bombs were found. Clearl... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

No bombs were found. Clearly there was no actual threat. Did 9 hours make a lot of difference ?

Suppose a guest came to your house and while you were cooking dinner used your computer to look up instructions on how to make a bomb without you even knowing it. A few weeks later he blew up a post office. Next day FBI bangs on your door and wants to search your computer.

I don't know about you wingnuts but I would ask for a proper warrant.

So, what, now you have to let FBI do whatever the fuck they want and all they have to do is say "we are looking for a terrorist" ???

Give me a break. You people deserve neither freedom, nor security.

"I'm sick of people who ... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

"I'm sick of people who "qoute" the law when they don't have a clue. keep posting though you make me laugh."

http://www.florida-cracker.org/archives/002697.html

Thank you, B Moe... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

Thank you, B Moe

...and for those of you too... (Below threshold)
leelu:

...and for those of you too lazy to click the link that B Moe left, the gist is that most librarians, by law, *cannot* just hand out information like that requested by the FBI *without* a warrant.

It's the law. She was following it.

Questions?

leelu, they all think that ... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

leelu, they all think that if government men bang on your door saying they want to search your house because they are doing a terrorism investigation you should bow down and comply.

Wake up people. This country is going down the toilet if all that the government needs to do is scare the heck out of the people to get their way.

Oleg, I would put more stoc... (Below threshold)

Oleg, I would put more stock in your assessment were it the government scaring me.

Librarians have consistantl... (Below threshold)
K:

Librarians have consistantly tried to assert their right to run libraries as they wish. They cite professionalism and privacy.

At first glance that seems sensible but in reality they are public employees and should follow instructions of their local governing agency. The librarians association says "not so".

As per any other question the librarian should have phoned her boss or the counsel designated to handle library matters.

If a local government wants to protect library privacy that is fine. I just don't like the lowest level people making the rules as they go. And that is what the librarians want to do.

Suppose a guest ca... (Below threshold)
kbiel:
Suppose a guest came to your house and while you were cooking dinner used your computer to look up instructions on how to make a bomb without you even knowing it. A few weeks later he blew up a post office. Next day FBI bangs on your door and wants to search your computer.

I don't know about you wingnuts but I would ask for a proper warrant.

Good for you. I, on the other hand, would asked what it was they wanted to know and why. Once they explained to me that my "guest" was the suspect and they traced his threat to my computer, I would gladly hand it over to them to help their investigation. I don't support or aid people who commit murder.

As for what happened in the case of this librarian, it would seem that her actions were in accordance with the law. So, I think the defect is in the law. I am not saying that library records should be made public, but that public internet terminals used in a library should not be covered under privacy laws.

You people deserve neither freedom, nor security.

And yet another misquote. Franklin wrote that those who gave up essential liberty for a little security deserved neither.

everyone takes the florida ... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

everyone takes the florida cracker statement about the law as a fact. Remember, that is one person making a statement on her own blog. She asserts that 48 states have those laws but does not give any citations. I know a lot of people who "know what the law says" who absolutely no clue about it. They have a blend of things they have heard or wished and those have become amalgamated into "the law."

If you believe that to be "the law," Great. Just provide a statutory citation to back it up. That will put an end to any disagreement on the issue.

Some of these responses see... (Below threshold)
Chris:

Some of these responses seem a little over the top. This was a bomb threat at a college. Not that it shouldn't be investigated, but when's the last time a bomb threat at a school turned out to be anything other than a prank? I realize the librarian didn't necessarily know all of the details, but I think it's a bit much to claim that this story involved "terrorists who want to destroy me and everything I represent." I mean really, do you think al Qaeda's next move is to put bombs in college libraries and then phone in a threat? There were school bomb threats long before 9/11. Everything's not about the terrorists, you know.

So, kbiel, by complying wit... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

So, kbiel, by complying with a warantless search you are not giving up your freedom for a little security ?

BTW, continuing the train of thought started by that story about a Romanian immigrant, I share a similar sentiment. Where I come from (former Soviet Union) KGB or internal affairs could bang on your door in the middle of the night, drag you out of your bed, and search your house, at best. More often than not they would arrest you and if you deny any wrongdoing they would put you into an insane asylum, or a prison, or what not.

Government is the source of all evil. Even the terrorists have more of an issue with our government than with us as American citizens.

It is GOOD to have an issue with the Government. It is patriotic to always suspect the Government of screwing up your country because that is what they do. It is unpatriotic to always comply with the Government actions without questioning.

I'm sorry, but a bomb threa... (Below threshold)

I'm sorry, but a bomb threat is never a "prank."

General Laws of Massachuset... (Below threshold)

General Laws of Massachusetts
CHAPTER 78. LIBRARIES.

Nothing about privacy or inability to consent to a search there. But, I'm not a Mass. Lawyer, either.

Lysander, you didn't give u... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

Lysander, you didn't give us a link to the document.

So, kbiel, by comp... (Below threshold)
kbiel:
So, kbiel, by complying with a warantless search you are not giving up your freedom for a little security ?

Uh, no. If I gave consent, then I am not complying but allowing. I did not say that I would allow the FBI into my house under any circumstance, but under the narrowly defined hypothetical that you raised. I hold no allegience to the ass who used my computer in the commission of his crime.

Government is the source of all evil.

Wow. That is so absolutist and absurd as to not require a reply, but I'll give you the courtesy anyway. So, are you saying that every evil act ever committed is because men have instituted governments? A government the prevents me (or least punishes me) for murdering you is evil? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "I don't think that word [evil] means what you think it means."

Even the terrorists have more of an issue with our government than with us as American citizens.

So, if we suddenly became a socialist country or communist country or dictatorship then Osama bin Laden would leave us alone? You are right in this sense, if we would renounce democracy and bow down to a bunch of mullahs, then the Islamist terrorists would leave us alone.

It is GOOD to have an issue with the Government.

Only if the government is violating your rights as a citizen.

It is patriotic to always suspect the Government of screwing up your country because that is what they do.

No, that's called paranoia.

It is unpatriotic to always comply with the Government actions without questioning.

Finally, something we can agree upon. Of course no one should always comply unquestioningly with the government, that is how you get facist dictatorships and Nazism. But one does not have to make every effort to hinder your government's ability to carry out its duties, to prevent an abusive government. Only anarchists would believe that.

are you saying tha... (Below threshold)
Oleg:
are you saying that every evil act ever committed is because men have instituted governments

Yes.

if we suddenly became a socialist country or communist country or dictatorship then Osama bin Laden would leave us alone?

Perhaps, but then some other wacko would take an issue with us. However, I would guess that if we abandon any form of large, powerful, centralized government and move towards a pure libertarian anarcho-capitalist soceity we would be generally better off.

It seems to me that the lib... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

It seems to me that the librarian in question was following the law. Her actions were assenine, but that was due to the law, not her preferrence. She should get a pass. The law that required it is another matter....

Just wondering, but why would a government who supplies free access to resources be oppressive if they wanted to review how people were using those resources? If you're worried about privacy from the government, maybe you shouldn't be using government resources?

Finally, if the government is evil can we abolish all welfare programs? They're evil by association, right? And are you finally admitting publicly that liberals view the military as evil? Thanks for making it official.

My ears were burning, so he... (Below threshold)

My ears were burning, so here I am.

Here's a citation about the 48 states. I've added it to my post as well. There are links there to all those states' laws. Have at it.

The link to the Florida statute was already in my post.


See link above and follow t... (Below threshold)

See link above and follow through to MA:

"That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record as defined by clause Twenty-sixth of section seven of chapter four."

Perhaps now a librarian defender can explain how using the library's public internet access to send bomb threats qualifies as an 'intellectual pursuit'.

brainy435:Did you ... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

brainy435:

Did you know there are free public libraries in China, Cuba, Iran, etc. ? Why would the government that provides these resources for free be repressive ? I dunno. Beats me.

Of course, if you want to ensure privacy you should not be using government resources. Then perhaps the "government" should get out of business of providing libraries which may very well be a private enterprise. It works for movie rentals, why not also books ?

Can we abolish welfare programs ? Sure, why not. Welfare program on its own is not evil, but when run by an incompetent government it is. Military as a tool of an incompetent evil government is not only evil, it is dangerous.

Look, my position is to minimize the government to the point of doing nothing more than managing the flow of money between individuals and businesses.

And please don't call me liberal if you mean to associate me with democrats.

So... some police show up ... (Below threshold)
Synova:

So... some police show up at my house. They say, "Mrs. Pascal, we believe you may have an intruder. Let us search your house."

If I *let* them search my house I have given up neither my freedom nor my authority over what happens in my house.

There is no, "I *must*" require a search warrant or I've given over to the jack booted thugs.

"Mrs. Pascal. We think that someone used your computer to send a bomb threat. We want to search your computers."

If someone *did*, well I darn well want to *know*. It's my house after all. I can see the librarian not having the same concern. Someone could be setting up a child molestation and exploitation ring from her "public" computers and it's not going to make any difference to *her* *personally* if it's true. It's sort of a safe place to get all self-righteously legalistic, isn't it.

Sure, you suspect that the coppers don't have a warrant because they can't *get* one and they're fishing for some way to get you... that's different.

"Mrs. Pascal. We're from child protective services. May we come inside?"

The answer to that one is "No. Not today, not tomorrow, and you can't get a warrant without showing a judge cause. I will be calling a lawyer. Have a pleasant day."

Oleg,Sorry, I didn... (Below threshold)

Oleg,

Sorry, I didn't realize you were using Google China.

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/gl-78-toc.htm

Thank you B Moe and Donnah.... (Below threshold)
LibraryLady:

Thank you B Moe and Donnah. I have been hearing about this a lot today!!

Although not every libraria... (Below threshold)

Although not every librarian supports the increasing leftist moonbattery of the aging hippie slobs who run the American Libraries Association, the association still has a policy of fighting law enforcement efforts to protect Americans from some of the most vicious and demonic threats in our country's history.

I'd like to draw your attention to a button being sold in the ALA store:

http://www.makingsenseofjihad.com/2006/01/public_records_.html

I'd link directly to it, but the site - ala.org - is not responding right now.

Regarding Massachusetts lib... (Below threshold)

Regarding Massachusetts libraries: Here's something to read.

--|PW|--

Synova:The situati... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Synova:

The situation you cite is a very specific exception to the warrant requirement. It's called "hot pursuit."

--|PW|--

Pennywit,Does that... (Below threshold)
JohnAnnArbor:

Pennywit,

Does that mean if an officer wants to look in my back yard for any reason that satisfies me, and I let him, and he doesn't have a warrant, all our freedoms just went to hell?

Joann:If you'd lik... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Joann:

If you'd like some sense of the limits of Fourth Amendment protections, I suggest a trip to your local law library, or else a quick and dirty Internet search for a student's CrimPro outline.

I sometimes relish a good scrap, but I have no desire to debate long-settled Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

--|PW|--

I apologize ... my previous... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

I apologize ... my previous message should be addressed to JohnAnn.

--|PW|--

My legal right to deny entr... (Below threshold)
Synova:

My legal right to deny entry to my home in situations that are not "hot pursuit" or "immenent danger" is not a REQUIREMENT that I deny entry to my home. I can do as I chose. If the government, in whatever form, wants to act contrary to my decision they must go through the courts, ie. a warrant from a Judge.

This isn't that complicated.

I'm a libertarian for greif's sake. I find a great deal of what's been going on lately (and historically, etc. etc.) to be appalling. But *as a libertarian* I also have to recognize that a healthy antagonism toward the state must be accompanied by a sense of *personal* civic responsibility.

Watch out for Oleg now, he'... (Below threshold)
scrapiron:

Watch out for Oleg now, he'll misquote Pappa Ben like the rest of the idiot lefties do and hope no one knows the real statement made by Pappa Ben.
"They that can give up 'essential' liberty to obtain a 'little' safety deserve neither liberty nor safety".
Copy and paste it if your mind is too weak to remember it, and don't use it out of context anymore. Ya hear!

(1) The law never mentions ... (Below threshold)

(1) The law never mentions computers or anything similar. Only books, laws, reports etc. There is nothing there which makes me think the law applies to the information retained by a computer after use by a library patron. After all, any information recorded on the computer during its use is incidental to the use itself.
(2) Given that this "identifying information" is not considered to be "public record", does that mean a librarian is specifically disallowed from voluntarily granting law enforcement officials with reasonable cause to believe it contains incriminating evidence, access to that information without a warrant?

scrapiron, please explain h... (Below threshold)
Oleg:

scrapiron, please explain how your right to deny a warrantless search is not an essential liberty.

I'm probably wrong in this ... (Below threshold)

I'm probably wrong in this assessment, but though seizure of library records would definitely require a warrant, wouldn't seizure of a public computer owned by a public library just be a case of a government looking over its own property?

Could the government search... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

Could the government search the computers at the DMV without a warrant? How about the IRS? I don't know exactly how the law works on this, but the librarian doesn't own the library, she works there, so what authority does an employee have to waive a warrant and allow a search?

One thing I also don't understand, is why the public is allowed access to the computers without a warrant but the FBI isn't? If a stalker, or bomber, or anyone else can search perfectly legally through the computer's database, then how can the legal authorities be denied access? It is obviously not private property.

I don't blame the librarian, because it seems she was just following the law. But I think we may need to examine the law.

The problem with this lates... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

The problem with this latest thread is that in most cases, "records" are kept on computers, and any numebr of coursts have expanded "papers" and "records" to include electronic material.

By analogy, if you keep your home pornography collction on your computer, the government, yes, must generally obtain a warrant before searching your computer.

Also keep in mind that the library law cited protects both "identity" and "intellectual pursuits."

Now, let me throw one more stick on this little fire. What if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Massachusetts law DOES require a warrant for the sheriffs to oome, grab the computers, and go look them over. Now, what if the government relies on that evidence at trial? In that case, you get a number of headaches with a defense attorney filing motions to suppress ... which could damage the government's case. wouldn't it be better to force law enforcement to follow the law, then?

--|PW|-

What I am trying to say is,... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

What I am trying to say is, the government would need s warrant to come into my house, period, because it is my house. They would need a warrant to look at my books and see if anything was scrawled in the margins, because it is my private property and without my permission one would be trespassing. But the library is public, anybody can go into the public stacks and see if people have scrawled in the margins. Why should law enforcement be denied? Same with computers. Whoever logs on after the bomber could see where the bomber had been surfing, no?

It has always been my understanding that a search warrant was required to allow law enforcement to do that which would normally be illegal to them or any other private citizen, in other words to waive trespassing and theft laws. The library law in question seems to deny to law enforcement rights that are available to private citizens.

I'm still not seeing anythi... (Below threshold)

I'm still not seeing anything which prevents the librarian from giving consent to the search.

The preposition, all the way at the beginning of the comments was "To do the search, you must have a warrant." However, I'm not finding anything that backs up where you can't consent to a warrantless search. The question isn't whether they can withhold consent, but the tact that some have taken here that consent for a search can not be granted by law. I'm just not seeing that, and not finding any statute or authority which says in effect "Libraries are prohibited from consenting to a search by policice unless and until a warrant is presented."

I think B. Moe hit the nail... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I think B. Moe hit the nail on the head. As a private citizen, I can sit down at a public computer in the library and examine records of where a previous person has gone on the Internet. The librarian is not keeping them private in that case. I could take out a full-page ad in the local newspaper telling exactly what I saw.

Now explain to me again how the librarian in question is protecting anyone's privacy.

Not sure about libraries, b... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Not sure about libraries, but I have been in labs where the computers are set up so that you really can't look back over those records.

--|PW|--

B Moe: Well, a private cit... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

B Moe: Well, a private citizen can't sort through a libraries records of borrowing and users, or records of who just used the computers. Keep in mind that's different from searching public databases like card catalogs and whatnot.

Lysander: Honestly, I wouldn't be suprrised if there is a bit of Maryland case law that speaks to that. I wish I could give you a citation but, unfortunately, I don't have the Westlaw access that I once had.

Still, there are some statutory cross-references. You'll have to pardon me for not using Bluebook style here, but I don't recall the proper citation for Mass. statutes. I'll use Mass. Stat. Okay?

Here's the relevant statute, 78 Msss. Stat. 7, which reads:

That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record as defined by clause Twenty-sixth of section seven of chapter four.

4 Mass. Stat. 7 gives us:

Twenty-sixth, “Public records” shall mean all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose.

Clause 26 lists several exceptions, but I don't see anything that includes anything about library records. In fact, information about a person's "identity" or "intellectual pursuits" are specifically exempted from the definition of public records.

So, when is a librarian allowed to disclose these nonpublic records? Again, 78 Mass. Stat. 7 provdies an answer:

Library authorities may disclose or exchange information relating to library users for the purposes of inter-library cooperation and coordination, including but not limited to, the purposes of facilitating the sharing of resources among library jurisdictions as authorized by clause (1) of section nineteen E or enforcing the provisions of sections ninety-nine and one hundred of chapter two hundred and sixty-six.

The library has the discretion to share these records for interlibrary loans and/or coordination. Meaning, I suppose, that if you have 20 grand in overdue fees at one library, another can send the library cops after you. But what are section 19E and Sections 99 and 100 of chapter 266?

19E, I assume, is 78 Mass. Stat. 19E, which is all about interlibrary programs. 266 Mass. Stat. 99 is a definitions section pertaining to S. 99A and S. 100. 266 Mass. Stat. 99A is basically about theft and destruction of library property. So is 266 Mass. Stat. 100.

So far, it seems, the librarian at a public library has the discretion to disclose nonpublic records only for interlibrary cooperation or to thwart crimes against the library.

The question, I suppose, is whether this functions as a limit on the librarian's discretion to disclose nonpublic records, or if it represents only examples of when a librarian may disclose nonpublic records.

When I have a bit more time, I'll see if I can find out what the Massachusetts laws say about warrants and nonpublic records that are kept by the government.

I speculate that the Mass. laws will place a fairly high barrier between law enforcement and nonpublic records kept by other government agencies.

--|PW|--

terrorists who wa... (Below threshold)
Oleg:
terrorists who want to destroy me and everything I represent

Nicholas, wake up and smell the java. What is it that you represent that irks the "terrorists" so much ?

YOW!!! Some of you people ... (Below threshold)
Tombraider:

YOW!!! Some of you people are scary. Read a freakin' history book - government is the biggest danger human beings face. The US government takes about 25% of my working life in taxes every stinking week; terrorists have never taken anything from me. The law in Mass. is that library usage records are not public records. You need a warrant to look at them. The librarian was making sure the search was done by the book to protect the library users privacy. As B Moe pointed out (finally someone with some sense) the librarian doesn't own the computers and therefore may not have the authority to grant consent to a warrantless search. And no, this isn't a case of the government looking at its own property, the FBI cannot browse IRS records at will. You might want to pay attention to the evolving law on information ownership. Any agency or entity you deal with that has access to your private information tries to make a buck off of you by selling that information to advertisers. People are starting to question just who owns that information and at what point distributing it constitutes an infringement on ones right to privacy. The courts are beginning to respond to this interesting question.

To hear the moonbats tell i... (Below threshold)

To hear the moonbats tell it the FBI is already bugging everything eveybody does on computers anyway. Some even wonder if they need to line their houses with Reynolds Wrap. I guess they don't take their own paranoid claims that seriously after all.

Oleg - non-Islamism I suppo... (Below threshold)

Oleg - non-Islamism I suppose. I'm a heretic and must be destroyed. Or something. I dunno, why don't you ask them why they blew up some of my fellow countrymen and women in Bali a couple of years ago?

The US government takes ... (Below threshold)

The US government takes about 25% of my working life in taxes every stinking week; terrorists have never taken anything from me. Tombraider
Wow.
You know what the terrorist want to take from you? Your life. If they were ever successful, you wouldn't be able to say anything...
And since they haven't been successful, it is because they haven't had the chance.




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