|S640 Seminar in Intellectual Freedom
Week of June 15 Lecture Transcript
Hi everyone. We’ve hinted at issues of privacy all term-long and now, in our last week of class, we’re finally going to dig in. Since we’ve talked about privacy and social networking throughout the term, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about that this week. In our general weekly forum discussions a couple of weeks ago, some folks were discussing the privacy options in Facebook; last year I stumbled upon a handy list called “10 Things You Need to Know about Today’s Facebook Privacy Changes” that you or your patrons may find useful. I think the news about Facebook’s use of their users’ information has a lot of people thinking a bit more about privacy issues.
Privacy and Confidentiality
You’ve read (or will read) the definitions of privacy and confidentiality in the IFM. These are important when considering the professional ethics of librarianship, but just as important to note is that there is no mention of privacy in the Constitution. The IFM describes several amendments in which privacy is implied, but this lack of specificity has left privacy open to various interpretations, some of which are discussed in the readings for this week. These include references to Thomas Cooley, Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas, and Lawrence Brady. I was planning to ask you to explore the following cases on your own as links to information about them are provided on ALA’s Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights website, however, the links no longer work, so I’ve provided brief descriptions of them here as seen on ALA’s Notable First Amendment Court Cases site. These court cases establish a fundamental right of all library users as set out by ALA’s interpretation; that being the right to receive information in a library.
Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico (1982)
In 1975, three school board members sought the removal of several books determined objectionable by a politically conservative organization. The following February, the board gave an "unofficial direction" that the books be removed from the school libraries, so that board members could read them. When the board action attracted press attention, the board described the books as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy." The nine books that were the subject of the lawsuit were Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris; Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas; Best Short Stories of Negro Writers edited by Langston Hughes; Go Ask Alice; Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge; Black Boy by Richard Wright; A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich by Alice Childress; and Soul on Ice by Eldrige Cleaver.
The board appointed a review committee that recommended that five of the books be returned to the shelves, two be placed on restricted shelves, and two be removed from the library. The full board voted to remove all but one book.
After years of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (5-4) the students' challenge to the board's action. The Court held that school boards do not have unrestricted authority to select library books and that the First Amendment is implicated when books are removed arbitrarily. Justice Brennan declared in the plurality opinion: "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."
Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for Morristown (3d Cir. 1992)
In detailed analysis, the court of appeals held that a municipal public library was a limited public forum, meaning open to the public for the specified purposes of exercising their First Amendment rights to read and receive information from library materials. Such exercise could not interfere with or disrupt the library's reasonable rules of operation. The court then upheld three library rules which: 1) required patrons to read, study, or otherwise use library materials while there; 2) prohibited noisy or boisterous activities which might disturb other patrons; and 3) permitted the removal of any patron whose offensive bodily hygiene was a nuisance to other patrons.
American Library Association v. U.S. Department of Justice and Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997)
In a 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 1997, declared unconstitutional a federal law making it a crime to send or display indecent material on line in a way available to minors. The decision in the consolidated cases completed a successful challenge to the so-called Communications Decency Act by the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, in which the American Library Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation played leading roles. The Court held that speech on the Internet is entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection, similar to the protection the Court gives to books and newspapers.
It is important to remember that each state has its own laws regarding privacy. This includes how each state understands privacy and confidentiality rights of minors as well. As with most other issues we discussed this term, the privacy and confidentiality rights of minors are often left to the discretion of parents; however, the Winters article illustrates how complications can arise when parents disagree.
When the government comes knocking…
I can certainly understand how librarians might falter under external pressure from the community and law enforcement to hand over confidential patron records. It comes down to a struggle between emotional response and professional judgment. I have to admit, though, that this struggle becomes less difficult for me when I read about stories like the Connecticut librarians who were given a gag order by the FBI. Gradually, the effects of the Bush Administration are slowly waning. If you would like to learn the fate of the Connecticut “Does” please read this short news piece. A report released in 2009 from the ACLU indicated that the Obama administration will not appeal to the Supreme Court to continue the practice of enforcing gag orders on those individuals who receive NSL’s. However, those cases in which gag orders have been imposed still hold and NSL’s are still being distributed. As at least one of the articles for this week points out, we need to demand that our privacy and confidentiality be respected. If we can’t guarantee our patrons that their library records are safe in our hands, what kind of effect will that have on their information choices? It’s scary to me that they would have to make “daring” choices at all.
The ACLU article that is part of this week’s readings made me remember an interview I heard on NPR’s program, Fresh Air (This is an interesting interview, but listen to it when you have some free time). The interviewee was an author who wrote a book about how the National Security Agency (NSA) is working with telecommunication firms under the protection of FISA to monitor phone calls and email messages to and from places outside of America, even communications made and received by those serving in the US Armed Forces overseas. To say this is disturbing is an understatement.
FISA isn’t any kind of secret. Do you think your patrons know about it? Many Americans who have immigrated from somewhere outside of the United States use public and school library computers to communicate with family members in their native countries. Do you think they understand the privacy implications of using library computers to email family? We shouldn’t expect to fight for our privacy and confidentiality rights alone. We need to inform library users of the policies (local, state, and federal) under which their use is regulated. If we allow the privacy and confidentiality of library users to be compromised, what kind of effect does this have on accessibility? Why should someone who has to rely on the library for information have fewer privacy and confidentiality rights than someone paying for a book at Barnes and Noble with cash?
Technology clearly has an impact on our privacy and confidentiality rights as well. As one of the Pew Center report suggests, sometimes we even give up those rights. I want to point out that there is a difference between data and information, despite how often the two terms are used interchangeably. Data are raw symbols that mean nothing until we make sense of them. That sense-making is information, knowledge. The numbers that comprise my birth date mean very little until the numbers have been identified as a date of birth, as Robin Moeller’s date of birth, as the birth date that belongs to a person with the social security number of _____. The numbers are just data. The rest is information and it is information that we want protected.
The protection of our personal information is related to the current controversy surrounding the use of RFIDs in identification records. For those of you who don’t know what RFIDs are, in short, they are small tags that are attached to just about anything with the purpose of tracking and identifying. To use RFIDs, one uses a type of reader to send a specific radio wave and the tag that identifies with that specific radio wave “answers” back. Various entities use RFIDs including the military, retail corporations like Target and Walmart, and veterinarians who implant them into pets in order to easily track them if they ever become missing. The government uses RFID’s along with biometrics to track and document many people coming in and leaving the United States, but that is a very large privacy can of worms I’m not going to open here. Libraries use RFIDs with books in order to easily assess a book’s location and its circulation record. Consider yourself lucky if you never have to inventory a collection the old way, by physically touching each item!
As the industry stands now, only libraries use RFIDs that operate on a certain radio band, essentially (theoretically), making theirs a “closed” system. However, with the advent of newer RFID technology and its expanded retail use, this could change, leaving library RFID systems open to possible third party access. This means that someone with an unauthorized reader could track a book and people who use that book. Think of the implications of someone developing a “hotlist” of a particular type of book that that person finds offensive, and then having the ability to track those who look at or check out that type of book. I hope that thought gave you “the willies.”
By midnight on Tuesday, June 21st, you should have done the following:
Created a blog posting concerning your reaction to a current event item related to intellectual freedom.
Responded to at least one other student’s blog posting.
Participated in group discussions per the instructions outlined in the syllabus.
Submitted your Little Brother essay via your Drop Box.
I will need to turn in your final grades on Friday, June 24th so I will be grading furiously in order to meet that timeline. Once your papers are graded, I will post your individual rubric back to your Drop Box and notify you via email that it is available for you to view. As has been the case throughout the term, everything that has been graded to date has been posted in the Gradebook for you to review at your leisure. If you have questions or concerns about my comments on your paper, your blogs, forum postings, or overall grade, please contact me ASAP. When I turn in your final grades on Friday to the Registrar, your final grades will appear on OneStart 24 hours later, so look for them on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for the hard work you’ve put into this course this term. I know many of you are very nearly finished with the program or are taking others classes along with this one, but you’ve done a great job of providing each other with thought-provoking information, articles, and news pieces. I’ve very much enjoyed reading about how you think of intellectual freedom and how your thinking has changed throughout the semester. Thanks again for your hard work.