Here is a post that first appeared on Choose Privacy Week .
New Privacy Guidelines Encourage Libraries and Vendors to Work Together to Protect Reader Privacy
By Michael Robinson
Chair, IFC Privacy Subcommittee
Head of Systems at the Consortium Library
University of Alaska – Anchorage
Libraries have a tradition of protecting the privacy of readers as the cornerstone of intellectual freedom. We recognize that freedom of thought and expression begins with freedom of inquiry, the ability to read and explore ideas without the chilling effect of government surveillance or societal disapproval. We clearly saw the Patriot Act as a threat to library users’ privacy and have earned a reputation for our efforts to reform it. However, that reputation may be in danger. A gap has grown between our tradition of protecting privacy and common practices that libraries have developed as they strive to deliver digital content, embrace the modern Web, and provide personalized services to library users. The October 2014 revelations disclosing what Adobe’s Digital Editions collects about users and their reading habits brought this gap into center stage.
ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) has been concerned about online privacy for years. They worked with the Office of Intellectual Freedom to establish the annual Choose Privacy Week campaign in 2010 and recently published an updated version of the Privacy Toolkit, an extensive resource that covers the myriad of threats to privacy in a modern library. One of the goals of the IFC Privacy Subcommittee is to use the toolkit as a resource to produce a series of more concise and accessible guidelines focused on specific areas of concern about library users’ privacy.
Given the Adobe revelations, we decided to start by developing privacy guidelines for ebook lending and digital content vendors. During the process of developing the document, the Privacy Subcommittee shared it with a range of individuals and groups for review and comments. This included ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG), the LITA Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group, and the group developing the NISO Consensus Framework to Support Patron Privacy in Digital Library and Information Systems. Online privacy is a large issue that touches on many areas of library service, and it is important that the different groups in ALA work together to develop a common set of principles and best practices that protect reader privacy. By the end of ALA’s 2015 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Digital Content Working Group both endorsed the document, entitled “Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors.”
“Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors” are intended to start a conversation within the library community and with vendors and content providers. We expect that the guidelines will need to be revised as we receive more feedback. On the whole, the guidelines represent our attempt to balance the need to protect reader privacy with the needs of libraries to collect user data and provide personalized services, while respecting and protecting the individual’s right to make their own informed decisions in regards to the privacy of their data, particularly in regard to how much privacy they are willing to trade for convenience or added benefits. That’s an ambitious goal, but if libraries and vendors can work together to develop practices based on these guidelines, it can serve as a model for how it can be done. It’s time for librarians to take up this task and to live up to our reputation as privacy defenders.