Monday, October 26, 2015

CISA [Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act] , Privacy, and Librarians

We interrupt your exciting Monday [ wait, WHAT?] with the following informational announcement, courtesy of the American Library Association Washington Office, who is responsible for monitoring legislation, keeping the interests of the library / information profession represented in US Government, and alerting librarians and others about stuff that can affect our - and YOUR - world regarding information policy and practices...

Nobody likes cyber-attacks, but the bill the US Senate is set to vote on TOMORROW – the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act or CISA (S.754) – is awful when it comes to your privacy.

For all of the reasons detailed on District Dispatch, including the possibility that companies could take “defensive measures” unilaterally to disrupt library (or any other) computer networks, ALA and its coalition partners (the ACLU, EFF and companies like Apple and Twitter) have been lobbying hard against passage of CISA. At the same time, we are trying to make it “less bad” by supporting important amendments to protect FOIA and personal privacy.


Librarians are all about privacy. We believe that you are entitled to it when you use our buildings, so that other people can't track your reading activities. And while there are those people who like to portray us as either stodgy old folks who care more about your privacy than you do, or by those who see our privacy interest as a protection of people who would abuse information networks for their own nefarious purposes, I think that we try to walk a line between the two positions. Illinois happens to be a state that has its own law [the Illinois Library Records Confidentiality Act] that prevents us as librarians and information workers from releasing information about your reading habits unless presented with court orders and/or national security letters. There are limitations to this, of course - as much as we would like to pretend otherwise, privacy is NEVER absolute, and there are circumstances when there are legitimate reasons to release such information. We just want to make sure that those reasons ARE legitimate, and not just because someone feels like getting up in your business for no particularly good reason other that they think they are entitled to. We just want you to READ!

There are also the "Mrs. Grundys" of the world who disapprove of everything that they don't approve of, and believe that they should be able to make everyone do as THEY think is right, regardless of what you think. I have no doubt that MOST of these folks are well-meaning (or were at one point), but sometimes they get a little - or A LOT - carried away. There is a group that is currently filing FOIA requests with public libraries across the state (of which Illinois has over 3,000, at last count) to gather information about a variety of activites at these libraries, all in the name of making libraries safer. By which they mean free from "objectionable" information, especially on the internet. They make a HUGE deal about how libraries are using taxpayer dollars to allow children to be exposed to porn where adults have free access to unfiltered internet. While no one with a lick of sense believes that that SHOULD happen, and many public libraries already do have internet filtering (it is pretty much mandatory if you accept a federal or state grant for money to fund library services), some libraries either don't believe that filtering is effective, that unfiltered access is part of a free society that all of us live in [oh, and maybe parents should be responsible for monitoring their own kids, not relying on the library staff to be their nanny - just sayin'], and in some cases, particularly where library funding is petty short already, paying for a filtering service is a burden on the local taxpayers and reduces available funds to do things like buy books and provide open service hours.

I don't suppose that these folks have ever considered how much taxpayer money is being "wasted" in responding to their FOIA crusade - legal costs in consulting attorneys, staff time in gathering information, sending the formal response and the inevitable clarificatiions that are requested afterwards. If you figure that each of these inquiries would take perhaps 3 hours to respond to - and that is probably fairly conservative - and the average salary of the staff member responding is $15/hour IF no lawyer is needed, then the cost just in terms of staff time to respond to these inquiries just on this single request across the state runs to about $135,000. All so a self-proclaimed public protector can thump their chest (metaphorically speaking) and brag about how they are protecting your children - while begging for money to help them do it some more. And that is just one FOIA request - I have heard that there are two or even a third currently making the rounds across the state.

[Now, before you get started,  2 things:
1. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Freedom of Information Act. Used as intended, and responsibly, it is insurance that public bodies are doing things as they should be done and a means of accountability when people are less than forthcoming about things that the public has every right to know. But like any good thing - like the internet, for example - it can be put to purposes that are far less noble and tasteful];
2. Lake Land has unfiltered internet access, like most higher education institutions. That does NOT mean that we are tolerant of misuse of the resources, especially viewing porn. What you do in private at your own home is up to you, but this isn't your home. We have already had cases this year where we have banned people from the library for this; you would think that with the monitors facing outwards - towards people walking past - that there would not be much of this, and since we went to this configuration, there hasn't been as much here. It is cyclical, I think; people who do this sort of thing make the circuit from place to place, eventually wearing out their welcome one place and moving on to the next - and this Fall seems to be our turn again. Our campus police officers are the best, and they do a terrific job of helping move folks along who are doing things that they shouldn't be doing]

WHEW. Climbing down from soapbox. Have a happy Monday (or whatever day it is when you read this)!

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