The American Library Association listed privacy as one of its core values starting in 1939. Occasionally, that value gets tested, as in the case of a librarian who went to jail in 1972 rather than testify against anti-Vietnam War activists. But the war between government sleuths and privacy advocates at your library has ramped up exponentially in the 21st century.
Under the Patriot Act, the government can demand library records via a secret court order and without probable cause that the information is related to a suspected terrorist plot. It can also block the librarian from revealing that request to anyone. Nor does the term “records” cover only the books you check out; it also includes search histories and hard drives from library computers. The Muslim-American who uses a library computer to correspond with family abroad, or the activist planning a demonstration against police brutality—those digital trails are vulnerable to surveillance, along with everyone else’s.
That part about not revealing the request tells us that more has been going on in the privacy wars than we know, but there have been several high-profile cases in which librarians refused to comply with orders. And librarians are at the forefront of implementing privacy technology on behalf of all their patrons. Read about the struggle between government surveillance and the privacy of your use of the public library at The Nation. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: Jessamyn West - CC)