In the light of WikiLeaks, NSA Contractor Edward Snowden, Apple verses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Hillary Clinton’s email fiasco maybe the epitome of how the digital revolution has morphed into an electronic commodity. Not only has this feudalism found a prominent stage within the political arena, but is has also encroached upon our personal information and privacy. Not that long ago a sealed letter or a personal telephone call was considered as protected communication. Unfortunately, those days are over and we can no longer rely on past practices with absolute confidence. Live chat, email, social media, texting, webcam, iPhones, iPads and other forms of technology, has made life easier to propagate information and exchange ideas. Although, advanced mediums have significantly transformed our world, how secure are they when transmitting private or confidential information?
Professor John Dewey at the Michigan State University addresses in his brief Technology Invading Privacy, “Americans privacy has been repeatedly breached. From corporations to governments, to anyone with an internet connection, no personal information is safe.” According to Dewey, “the Government uses the National Security Surveillance Act (NSSA) to wiretap cell phone conversations on innocent citizens.” An interesting decision this topic occurred in 2015, when a federal appeals court ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA) could no longer collect information from American citizen’s phone records.
One might ask the legitimate question of, “What about the fourth amendment and the right to privacy?” That is a valid question and it is one our constitutional rights. Let’s review the fourth amendment. The right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularity describing the place to be search, and the persons or things to be seized. The key here is, “but upon probable cause.” The reality of this is, as Americans our right to privacy can be considered conditional until a judge issues a warrant. For example, the legal skirmish between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over the access to contents of the iPhone used by 2016’s San Bernardino shooter. The heart of the issue was between a major technology firm protecting the right to privacy of the patron and the Government’s position of but upon probable cause demanding the contents of the shooters iPhone.
According a survey conducted by Pew Research, the majority of Americans are very concerned about their ability to protect and preserve private information. The survey revealed:
91% of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.
88% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that it would be very difficult to remove inaccurate information about them online.
80% of those who use social networking sites say they are concerned about third parties like advertisers or businesses accessing the data they share on these sites.
70% of social networking site users say that they are at least somewhat concerned about the government accessing some of the information they share on social networking sites without their knowledge.
A staggering thought to this awareness is every website that is accessed leaves a digital footprint containing a portion of our identity. Digital footprints provide a vivid trail of personal data we leave behind while using the internet. These footprints form a digital picture of who we are and can be accessed by employers, colleges, and collection agencies.
What is American Library Association (ALA) response in regards to the protection of a patron’s privacy and confidentiality? The ALA strongly affirms privacy is a critical element for one to freely exercise and express free speech, thought, and association. ALA emphatically upholds “Protecting user privacy and confidentiality has been an integral part of the mission of libraries.” This affirmation has been a fundamental principle of ALA since 1939. In conjunction with ALA, the Library Bill of Rights also confirms the right to unrestricted access to information and to guard against intrusion of privacy and confidentiality. To this day patrons have free access to libraries whether it is physical or virtual and without fear of improper dissemination of personal data. In addition, libraries do not collect personal information for third- inquiries, verification, or collect digital footprints of websites accessed.
Data breaches and intrusion will continue to rise on a national and global platform. Today’s threats are potent and can cause considerable damage to our well-being both privately and publically. On the other hand, our library constituents can continue to rely on the principles and policies as stated in the Library Bill of Rights.
American Library Association (n.d.) Advocacy, intellectual freedom, library bill of rights, and privacy. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy
Cornell University (n.d.) Law School. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu
Dowell, J., (n.d.) Technology invading privacy. Retrieved from: https://msu.edu/~casechri/135/Chp3paper2.html
Madden, M., and Rainie, L., (2015, May 15). Americans’ attitudes about privacy, security & surveillance.