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Trust a Librarian in the Battle to Protect User Privacy!

Did you know that reading choices can tell a lot about someone? They can reveal religion, sexual preference, and political beliefs. It is precisely this type of information that has been used to target people in the past. It still is today, and no doubt will be in the future. That doesn’t mean librarians will stop fighting the battle to protect user privacy from the invasion of surveillance.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published a statement on the importance of protecting user data. It is part of everyone’s basic human rights.

Librarians continue their commitment to that principle. Their focus has always been on ensuring people can use library services without fear. However, it is becoming more challenging to do so. It is becoming increasingly necessary for people to use technology in performing daily activities.

This increased use of technology has resulted in an extensive collection of significant amounts of personal data. Library users’ privacy is coming under increasing threat of invasion. As a result, library and knowledge centre services are continually adjusting their policies.

In America, for example, the Patriot Act, was enacted in response to the 911 terrorist event. But this Act has since highlighted many concerns regarding the violation of reader privacy.

Librarians are now in the position of having to share user data with others. Limited budgets and expectations of efficiency in an “instant gratification” era are challenging. The birth of cloud-based services, which meets those needs, means sharing private data is increasing.

In a cloud-based environment, librarians have less direct control over their collected user data. This is because it is stored outside of their physical workplace.

The level of data security that cloud base storage provides is reassuring. However, this is in large part due to the importance placed by librarians (and software suppliers) on user information.

There are many examples of librarians protecting user data:

  • The 1972 arrest of Zoia Horn for not betraying citizens protesting the Vietnam War.
  • The FBI, in 2005, demanded that a US-based library provide them with user data. They had requested user records and the computer hard drives from the institution. When the library refused to do so, the American Library Association (ALA) had vocally supported them. Rather than violate user rights, the library instead began deleting user information.
  • Library organizations helped pass the 2011 Privacy Act. The Act was first created when users only had the option to use brick-and-mortar facilities. With the development of electronic books and online bookstores, there was a clear need to have the Act updated to cover these new services.
  • In 2015, librarians and their software suppliers were encouraged to work together as a result of privacy guidelines established at the ALA summit in 2015.

Internationally, there has been action to protect and restrict the collection of personal data. The EU’s GDPR policy is a prime example. However, librarians and their national organizations have been well ahead of the game!

Both libraries and vendors such as Softlink Information Centres are on the same page. They understand how important it is that users have a clear picture of how their private, confidential data is being collected and used. Users can be confident of its protection.


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