I read an article in the Star Herald last week about privacy. They discussed Facebook turning over private messages to the government. It seems your Amazon Ring videos can also be turned over without your knowledge. Google, Apple, and Amazon don’t have your best interests (or your privacy) in mind when you use their voice technology.

Shortly after September 11, 2001 Congress signed the Patriot Act into law. Still in shock after the attacks, Congress felt national security was at risk. According to the ACLU’s website,

“The Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers in four areas:

  1. Records searches.  It expands the government’s ability to look at records on an individual’s activity being held by a third party. (Section 215) 
  2. Secret searches.  It expands the government’s ability to search private property without notice to the owner. (Section 213) 
  3. Intelligence searches.  It expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information (Section 218). 
  4. “Trap and trace” searches.  It expands another Fourth Amendment exception for spying that collects “addressing” information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to the content (Section 214).”

The part about third parties applies to libraries. You may not be reading anything to cause suspicion.You may not want the government to know what you are reading regardless of that. In 2005 the federal government asked a Connecticut library to turn over information about who had been using their computers. This data would have endangered the privacy of many patrons, besides the target patron. The librarians refused.

Privacy at libraries is important. The American Library Association (ALA) says this: “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. When users recognize or fear that their privacy or confidentiality is compromised, true freedom of inquiry no longer exists.”

Libraries are not allowed to let their patrons know if they have been contacted by the government. Some libraries have posted a sign that says something like this, “The NSA has not been to the library today.” If the sign is gone, the NSA has requested information from the library.

Gering Library’s computer system allows us to tell our patrons if they have checked out an item before. Many of our avid readers appreciate finding out they have already read a book. They can choose another book while they are at the library if they didn’t intend to re-read the book. 

This is handy, but it has some flaws. If the government should ask us to turn over our records, this patron history would be part of those records. This setting on the accounts is haphazard. Some folks have it, others don’t. You might prefer to have the library not retain your reading information. If this is the case, just let the librarian know. We simply unselect a button and your reading history is…history. You can also set Libby by Overdrive to not retain your search or reading history.

The paper slips patrons use to access our public computers leave no information about who was using the computers. Each night the computers are “wiped” of any lingering cookies. If you take the time to log out of your accounts, nobody will know you were here.

I have heard people say, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what does it hurt?” I think the reply to that is, “my business isn’t anybody else’s business.” The Gering Public Library stands with the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. Every library user has a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library usage. If the government were to request library records, we cannot provide information we do not have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *