Shortly after it came to light that Adobe Digital Editions was transmitting information about ebook reading activity in the clear, for anybody to snoop upon, I asked a loaded question: does ALA have a role in helping to verify that the software libraries use protect the privacy of readers?
As with any loaded question, I had an answer in mind: I do think that ALA and LITA, by virtue of their institutional heft and influence with librarians, can provide significant assistance in securing library software.
I waited a bit, wondering how the powers that be at ALA would respond. Then I remembered something: an institution like ALA is not, in fact, a faceless, inscrutable organism. Like Soylent Green, ALA is people!
Well, maybe not so much like Soylent Green. My point is that despite ALA’s reputation for being a heavily bureaucratic, procedure-bound organization, it does offer ways for members to take up and idea an run with it.
And that’s what I did — I floated a petition to form a new interest group within LITA, the Patron Privacy Technologies IG. Quite a few people signed it… and it now lives!
Here’s the charge of the IG:
The LITA Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group will promote the design and implementation of library software and hardware that protects the privacy of library users and maximizes user ability to make informed decisions about the use of personally identifiable information by the library and its vendors.
Under this remit, activities of the Interest Group would include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Publishing recommendations on data security practices for library software.
- Publishing tutorials on tools for libraries to use to check that library software is handling patron information responsibly.
- Organizing efforts to test commercially available software that handle patron information.
- Providing a conduit for responsible disclosure of defects in software that could lead to exposure of library patron information.
- Providing sample publicity materials for libraries to use with their patrons in explaining the library’s privacy practices.
I am fortunate to have two great co-chairs, Emily Morton-Owens of the Seattle Public Library and Matt Beckstrom of the Lewis and Clark Library, and I’m happy to announce that the IG’s first face-to-face meeting will at ALA Midwinter 2015 — specifically tomorrow, at 8:30 a.m. Central Time in the Ballroom 1 of the Sheraton in Chicago.
We have two great speakers lined up — Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project and Gary Price of INFODocket, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
But I’m also looking forward to the rest of the meeting: this is when the IG will, as a whole, decide how far to reach. We have a lot of interest and the ability to do things that will teach library staff and our patrons how to better protect privacy, teach library programmers how to design and code for privacy, and verify that our tools match our ideals.
Despite the title of this blog post… it’s by no means my effort alone that will get us anywhere. Many people are already engaging in issues of privacy and technology in libraries, but I do hope that the IG will provide one more point of focus for our efforts.
I look forward to the conversation tomorrow.