TED Talks: Why Privacy Matters?

Check out this informative lecture on privacy presented by Alessandro Acquisti (privacy economist from Carnegie Mellon University).

Protecting Online Privacy

Privacy Key

Since 9/11, the surveillance of individuals (both foreign and domestic born)  has become a major factor in national security. After 13 years, it seems that we are no safer than before the 9/11 attacks, and the current surveillance tactics conducted by organizations like the National Security Agency (NSA) only  cause indignation from the public towards the government. Do we really have to sacrifice our right to privacy and free expression for safety and national security ?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance has greatly expanded in the years since September 11th, 2001”. Recent disclosures have shown that the government, enabled by the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendment Act,  has been tracking calls of innocent American citizens and spying on international calls, text messages, emails, and web data (aclu.org). It not just government agencies, however, who are monitoring communication patterns and technology usage, corporations have also been exploiting consumer’s information for their own gain. Figures from corporate America, such as Scott McNealy (CEO of Sun Microsystems) and Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) have claimed that privacy doesn’t matter in the digital age, yet research shows that this is not the case. It is not surprising that people like McNealy and Zuckerberg would try to make these claims, since these are individuals who make their money off of gathering personal data, repackaging it, and selling it to advertisers (Magi, 2013). Contrary to what corporate figures claim, privacy does matter and it is a major concern for people, as evidenced by the fact that: there are laws or attorney general opinions protecting library records; at the federal level, there is talk about creating a consumer privacy bill of rights, over the past five years Facebook users have expressed outrage over the website’s features and policies that clearly violated privacy, and an increasing number of scholarly studies show that people are concerned about their privacy (Magi, 2013).

Such practices, which were mainly caused by the passage of the Patriot Act, are viewed as unsettling by librarians and information professionals, because the right to access information and the freedom of privacy is fundamental to their profession (Shaffer, 2014). In fact, Article IV of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights “affirms the ethical imperative to provide unrestricted access to information and to guard against impediments to open inquiry” (www.ala.org/advocacy). Breaching users’ private or confidential data is viewed as an impediment to open inquiry, and if users recognize that than the freedom of open inquiry no longer exists (ala.org/advocacy).

The surveillance and callous collection of personal data is an unsettling situation, which is why some librarians and information professionals are stepping in to help raise awareness and provide users tips on how to improve their online privacy. For example, IT Librarian of the Watertown Free Public Library in Massachusetts, Alison Macrina, (along with ACLU Massachusetts) conducted a series of privacy workshops for librarians all over the  state. As a result, multiple Massachusetts libraries have taken different actions to protect patrons’ privacy such as: installing the Tor browser, coordinating computer privacy classes, and installing privacy protecting plug-ins from the Firefox browser (boingboing.net). Other privacy defense tactics librarians and information professionals can adopt include: adopting the ALA Code of Ethics and Bill of Rights, writing and adopting a library privacy policy, not sharing the names of users or the materials they want, calling to reform the Patriot Act, and being wary of government and law enforcement intrusion (Magi, 2013).

References:

American Civil Liberties Union (n.d.). Rein in the surveillance state. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/rein-surveillance-state.

American Library Association (n.d.). Privacy: An interpretation of the library bill of rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy.

Macrina. A & Glaser. A.  (2014, Sept. 13). Radical librarianship: How ninja librarians are ensuring patrons’ electronic privacy. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2014/09/13/radical-librarianship-how-nin.html.

Magi, T.J. (2013). A fresh look at privacy- Why does it matter, who cares, and what should librarians do about it? Indiana Libraries, 32(1), 37-41. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.uvm.edu/libfacpub/6/.

Shaffer, C. (2014). The patriot act a decade later: A literature review of librarian responses and strategies. Indiana Libraries, 33(1). Retrieved from http://http://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/IndianaLibraries/article/view/3485.