Thought-provoking Presentations on Privacy at Library 2.016

iStudent Blog

Published: June 9, 2016

Library 2.0 conferences are a great way to gain the latest information about library trends and information technology without leaving the comfort of your home or office. It’s all online and presentations are given at a variety of times, making it  easier for people all over the world to take part. If you can’t make it, there’s always the recording, which is how I soak up the knowledge of Library 2.0.

The  Library 2.016 conference is split up into three mini-conferences with a specific focus for each one. The first conference in March entitled Privacy in the Digital Age featured presentations about intellectual freedom at home and abroad, current concerns regarding the legal aspects of the right to privacy and privacy issues that relate to specific technology. All 11 of these presentations can be viewed on the Library YouTube channel.

The next two conferences entitled Library as Classroom and Libraries of the Future will take place in June and October respectively and feature what iSchool Director Dr. Sandra Hirsh called a balance of “keynote speakers, invited experts and crowd-sourced proposals from around the world.” The SJSU School of Information is a founding sponsor of the conference and Hirsh gave the introduction to the March conference.

National Security and a Couple Constitutional Amendments
The keynote address, which had originally been scheduled for later in the day but was moved up due to family emergencies and technical difficulties was entitled A Current Update on Library Records, Privacy and National Security Letters. Connecticut librarians Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase and Janet Nocek all spoke about their roles and research concerning the Supreme Court case of John Doe vs. Gonzales regarding the privacy of library records. Chase began the presentation describing the events and the mental stress of being served a national security letter by the FBI to essentially spy on library patrons for the government. The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 enabled the FBI to search library records of anyone in the United States regardless of citizenship or grounds for suspicion. 

“Anyone that receives a national security letter is placed under a lifetime gag order,” said Chase, and is subject to arrest and prison time if they tell anyone about it. The case was eventually taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and in 2006 the gag order was lifted for the four librarians from the Connecticut Library Connection group who were involved in the case. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been served national security letters, but only these librarians and a handful of others have had the lifetime gag orders removed.

Nocek went on to talk about the current situation between the libraries and the federal government, reminding listeners that national security letters are still be issued. She discussed aspects of the law, statistics involving national security letters and the constitutional rights of libraries, patrons and librarians. Nocek mentioned a 2002 University of Illinois survey revealed that 3.1% of librarians have received such letters despite the denial by the Office of the Inspector General. “A letter still does not require judicial review, or limit the timeframe for review,” said Nocek. “It is a violation of the first and fifth Constitutional Amendments.”

What You Can Do to Protect Patrons’ Privacy
Barbara Bailey spoke after Nocek, with tips for librarians about what to know and what to do, “should law enforcement come a-knockin’.”

“Be aware of what’s going on with privacy issues—nationally, statewide and even locally,” began Bailey. She gave listeners some important information and guidelines to follow, including:

  • Contact legislators if you don’t like what’s going on—tell them what you think.
  • Review privacy policies regularly to make sure they reflect current regulations. Check the state’s Confidentiality of Library Records policies which are regularly updated to reflect changes in digital resources and others. “If you don’t have a privacy policy, write one!”
  • Communicate and have good rapport with the local police department, and get their input on privacy policies. Make sure the staff and the public are aware of the policies.
  • Only keep what you need to do business—destroy the rest. Have a statement on email policy, that if you take an email address to keep patrons informed about their lending record that the library won’t sell the email addresses to anyone.
  • Check the privacy statements of the databases that the library uses, that they won’t be selling email addresses to any third party vendors.
  • Make sure that computer management systems are not keeping patron information past the end of the day; within a few hours is ideal.

As I was listening to the recording of the March presentation, I was struck by how intense and elaborate government restrictions are, even before there is any suspicion of a crime. Chase’s retelling of events and Nocek’s references to laws, restrictions and regulations made me realize the enormity of the issue.

Further Resources about Privacy Issues, Rights and Regulations
Thankfully, Bailey’s list of starting points and guidelines ended the presentation with a sense of hope and determination. Librarians have a duty to their patrons, and they need to stay informed. Nocek and Baily both gave several sources to become more informed about privacy issues. 

The iSchool offers several seminar courses in Info 281 including Information Secrecy, Information Privacy, Information Ethics and Information Integrity.

For more thought-provoking presentations from experts and professionals around the world be sure to check out the next Library 2.016 mini-conference entitled Library as Classroom coming up on June 15, 2016.

References found in the SJSU King Library Database:

D. K. (2007). NSL provision ruled unconstitutional. American Libraries, 38(9), 27.

Eberhart, G. M. (2003). Librarians divided over patriot act compliance. American Libraries, 34(3), 18. 


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