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    Opinion at Library Journal: Breaking the Panopticon

    At Library Journal, Dorothea Salo, a Faculty Associate in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, talks about what privacy means in libraries, especially in light of the NSA domestic surveillance scandal:

    Teaching from the real world is pure joy most of the time. Students love it when they see something from class in the pixels of library journals and magazines, the mass media, or the technology press. Most of the time, discussing change while it’s happening is a visceral lesson in professional adaptability and continuous learning. However, I could have done without having to teach technology-related privacy issues to my “Digital Trends, Tools, and Debates” students in the shadow of the NSA’s newly-revealed surveillance practices. […]

    As I always do, I explained to my students why I chose to teach them about this. My own visceral outrage aside, the simplest reasons call back to parts of the ALA Code of Ethics:

    • II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
    • III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted. […]

    What price intellectual freedom and freedom to read, never mind privacy and confidentiality, when the NSA has built weaknesses into security standards and frameworks that could help other snoops grab every byte passing through a library computer, or over the library wireless network? When Amazon tracks library checkouts to Kindle devices, creepily attaching buy-this-book come-ons to due-date notices? When any number of commercial data warehouses track patron information behavior on the computers and Wi-Fi networks libraries provide?

    The Internet in general and the web in particular have become Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. That panopticon unquestionably surveils us and our patrons. If libraries are truly to be the privacy-protecting, commercial-free civic spaces they aim to be, shouldn’t we librarians extend the principles of the ALA Code of Ethics to digital environments as well? What would that take?

     Read the full column to learn what Salo believes are some answers to these difficult questions.

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