When you ask most librarians why they have a social media presence they will likely say things like:
- To promote library services, workshops, and events.
- To provide better access to information.
- To be where the users are.
- To enhance instruction.
- To collect feedback from patrons.
These are all fine actions— but they are what we are doing, not whywe are doing it.
Are librarians hysterical about protecting user privacy, as Attorney General John Ashcroft contended in 2003? That was the question asked when LIS students at Rutgers University heard from two librarians on the front lines defending and promoting intellectual freedom since the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001. The colloquium entitled Libraries, Privacy, and National Securityfeatured George Christian, the plaintiff in John Doe v. Gonzales who was served a National Security Letter (NSL) in 2005 that demanded patron records from the Library Connection in Connecticut, and Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of the coalition OpenTheGovernment.org, an organization that shines a light on surveillance transparency.
Librarians in Massachusetts are working to give their patrons a chance to opt-out of pervasive surveillance. Partnering with the ACLU of Massachusetts, area librarians have been teaching and taking workshops on how freedom of speech and the right to privacy are compromised by the surveillance of online and digital communications — and what new privacy-protecting services they can offer patrons to shield them from unwanted spying of their library activity.
In September 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft called out the librarians. The American Library Association and civil liberties groups, he said, were pushing “baseless hysteria” about the controversial Patriot Act. He suggested that they were worried that spy agencies wanted to know “how far you have gotten on the latest Tom Clancy novel.”
Ashcroft was 17 speeches into a national speaking tour defending the Patriot Act, a law expanding government surveillance powers that passed nearly unanimously in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And all along the way, the librarians showed up to protest.
In the case of government surveillance, they are not shushing. They’ve been among the loudest voices urging freedom of information and privacy protections.
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I bring this up because of a strong tension I noticed at the recent Library Technology Conferencebetween library notions of privacy and academic libraries’ salutary desire to use various forms of patron behavior data to improve websites and other services. How much are we willing to snoop to get better at what we do? How do we gauge potential (not actual, let us pray) harm to patrons? When we do decide that snooping is worth the risks, how do we protect our patrons from data breaches (making the news at too many higher education institutions of late) and reidentification attacks? How do we avoid participating in today’s sinister commercial and political nightmare of greedy, thoughtless, not-always-disclosed physical and digital surveillance? Does performing surveillance in our much-trusted libraries not legitimize the other surveillance regimes?
My source told me, and I can confirm, that Adobe is tracking users in the app and uploading the data to their servers.
- Ars Technica independently confirms many details.
- A second confirmation comes in from Liza Daly of Safari Books.
- Tests show that earlier versions of Adobe DE don’t spy on users.
- Adobe responds.
- Bluefire comments on the story.
- Adobe responds to the ALA (and what I’ve learned since this story broke)
- Digital Editions 4.0.1 is released, and does not spy on users.
- The EFF confirms all of my initial report.
And just to be clear, I have seen this happen, and I can also tell you that Benjamin Daniel Mussler, the security researcher who found the security hole on Amazon.com, has also tested this at my request and saw it with his own eyes.
They may be a day late and a dollar short, but Adobe has finally responded to yesterday’s news that they were using the Digital Editions 4 app to spy on users.
The American Library Association reported yesterday that Adobe has responded to the ALA’s concerns about the recent revaluations of Adobe spying on users.