March 24, 2018

ALA Launches Resources for Commuity Dialogue Around Privacy | ALA 2013

The American Library Association has launched a new website,, in response to the recent revelations about widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). The site offers a toolkit and other resources for libraries to convene forums and moderate community discussions on privacy. Many more resources will be added in the weeks to come, an ALA representative said.

The site also offers information on ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and Office for Intellectual Freedom’s work for privacy, as well as ALA’s Committee on Legislation and the Office of Government Relations work around the Patriot Act and other legislation about surveillance and data retention.

The site was announced at ALA Annual at Chicago’s McCormick Place at a forum called “We Told You So.” The title references librarians’ early and vocal concern about section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the so-called library provision, which has now been revealed to be the justification, not only for library records requests, but for the wholesale obtaining of cell phone metadata.

Michael German, senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a former FBI agent—and FBI whistleblower—spoke on these and related concerns, including the fact that shutting down one program exposed by leaks does not mean there are not other, duplicative secret programs attaining the same or similar results.

German also pointed out that under section 702 of the foreign international surveillance act, though the target must be a non-citizen abroad, the dragnet includes everyone talking about that target, which can have a chilling effect on scholarship around terrorism and counterterrorism, among others.

Because the program targets international communications, academic institutions with campuses abroad, as well as individual academics who communicate with colleagues overseas, are particularly at risk; the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) expects to have a document out in the next week addressing such concerns.

German also raised a few final points likely to spur further community discussion: that overseas communications that fall within the scope of known data-gathering programs could include calls from American citizens to health insurance companies, banks, or that anyone else who has outsourced their customer service to a foreign-based call center, as well as multinational business interests with trade secrets being transmitted to overseas manufacturing facilities and lawyers whose client confidentiality is compromised. German also made several videos for Choose Privacy Week.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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