Community discusses value of privacy
Nancy Kranich, along with other librarians at the university and nationwide, is starting a revolution.
Kranich, a part time lecturer in the School of Communication and Information, led a discussion called “Privacy Conversation Forum,” yesterday at Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus.
The conversation was held during “Banned Books Week,” an annual event in which libraries and bookstores across the country promote awareness of the issues of censorship in reading.
Kranich organized the event as a member of the American Library Association, which is also promoting “Choose Privacy Week,” an annual program that encourages librarians and library users to participate in a national conversation on the issues of privacy rights in the current digital age.
“Privacy is a key concern for us, because you can’t have the freedom to read if people are looking over your shoulder,” she said. “Several years ago, we decided that people in the country really needed to have a conversation about privacy, and we were very involved in issues around surveillance starting right after 9/11.”
The recent controversy around Edward Snowden’s release of National Security Agency documents came as no surprise to Kranich and her colleagues, and they continue to take issue with laws created and enforced in secret courts.
Students, faculty and staff participating in the deliberation expressed a range of concerns from targeted spam and advertisements to compromised civil rights.
But some conceded that such concerns are often the fault of the people who are more than willing to participate in the sharing and gathering of information for the purposes of convenience.
Angelina Thoman, a graduate student, added that people often realize too late that they should not give up personal information. She herself does not trust lengthy agreements and conditions that may force her to release personal data.
“I shouldn’t have to agree to a 5,000-page terms of agreement when I install iOS7 if they weren’t trying to hide something,” she said.
Concerns of profiling based on race, religion and interests were also raised. In particular, individuals’ online activities were discussed as a means by which a Big Brother-type government could oversee the public.
Steven Galante, a graduate student, said people who have access to this information might not be able to contextualize it.
“Whereas you may just have a thirst for knowledge, and you’re not looking to do anything nefarious, to a third party that may be watching … You don’t know what they’re going to do with that information,” he said.
Attendees debated where exactly the line should be drawn in terms of the government and public sector’s duty to protect its people.
Catherine Sauceda, part-time librarian in the Special Collections and University Archives, said she was trained to learn about protecting other’s privacy rights, but often was not sure what responsibilities the job entailed in terms of privacy.
“When a police officer would come in looking for somebody … were my rights protection of the public or this person’s privacy?” she said.
Thoman said her biggest concerns are threats to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
“With lack of privacy, we find our rights being eroded,” she said. “Where do we draw the line in what’s going to be protected and what’s going to be forsaken?”
Students and faculty were also concerned about the limited available means to protect themselves, as many do not have the skills or money to safeguard their privacy — particularly on the Internet.
“The problem is that it’s so hard nowadays,” Galante said. “There was a time when privacy was the default and being public was through effort. Nowadays, it’s public by default, privacy through effort.”
Thoman said when Americans address issues of equity and prejudice, they really are discussing the effects — not the causes.
“Regardless of where that line is drawn, when is the next big thing going to happen that’s going to cause us to give up more rights?” she said. “We keep addressing each thing that comes up instead of the issue at hand and really figuring out what the base of it is.”