The other day I was researching a topic which was somewhat controversial in nature. My search for more information took me to the local library. I asked the librarian about the section where I could find books on that topic. First he gave me a suspicious look and then directed me towards a computer through which I could query the library database. As I opened the library search page it struck me that I didn’t knew what book(s) to search for. A quick Google search led me to a list of books on the subject and some good articles. From the list a few books were marked available in the library database. I rented books that I found of interest and left the library.
The whole time I was feeling uncomfortable and a bit sacred. What if that library connection was being monitored? What if the library database had some feature where it would flag a particular patron based on the books they rent or search for? Given that libraries encompass knowledge on every kind of subject and are accessible by all, shouldn’t they ensure the privacy of their patrons? The are after all the epitome of democracy.
What is Library Freedom Project?
The Library Freedom Project, as Alison wrote in her brief on NewsChallange.org, teaches librarians about privacy rights, law, and tech tools to protect patrons from dragnet surveillance. She describes the project in more detail in her video pitch:
Why is it required?
Alison describes the reason behind launching this project in her brief on NewsChallange.com as:
As not only stewards of information, but also providers of public Internet access, librarians are in an obvious position to help educate local communities about how to protect their privacy from unwanted surveillance online. Libraries provide access to information and in doing so should protect patrons’ right to explore new ideas, no matter how controversial or subversive, unfettered by the pernicious effects of online surveillance. What’s more, public libraries serve communities that have historically come under more surveillance and scrutiny than the general population, including people of color, Muslim Americans, queer people, transgender people, political activists, the formerly incarcerated, and people living in poverty. Libraries are centers of democracy, but they must be protected and safeguarded.
Activities conducted under the project
The keystone of the Library Freedom Project is the privacy workshop for librarians. These trainings have been developed with the project’s main institutional partner, the ACLU of Massachusetts. They work with ACLU affiliates across the country when visiting libraries in different states. A typical privacy training lasts about 3-4 hours. Read more.
The Library Digital Privacy Pledge
The Library Freedom Project has created the “Library Digital Privacy Pledge of 2015” pledge for library community. The focus of this first pledge is on the use of HTTPS to deliver library services and the information resources offered by libraries. It’s just a first step: HTTPS is a privacy prerequisite, not a privacy solution. Through this pledge they aim to gather momentum and raise awareness. Read more.
Tor Exit Relays in Libraries
This is a collaboration between the Library Freedom Project and the Tor Project. Relays make up the backbone of the Tor network, which is what powers the Tor Browser. When a user opens the Tor Browser and navigates to a website, her traffic is bounced over three relays, scrambling her traffic with three layers of encryption, making her original IP address undetectable. The exit relay is the last relay in this circuit, the one that talks to the public internet. Since libraries already provide public internet services, they are protected from DMCA take-downs by safe harbor provisions and are shielded from the threats that an individual exit relay operator might face. Read more.
DRIL (Digital Rights in Library) is a two day un/conference for librarians and their communities that took place June 29-30, 2015 at the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco, California. The conference was divided into three tracks: issue based-sessions, technology sessions with both formal trainings and open-ended help on using crypto tools, and a traditional unconference track where attendees can propose their own presentation ideas. Read more.
Organizations backing this project
This project is being conducted under the guidance of following organizations/institutions:
- The Knight Foundation, Investors
- The Free Software Foundation, Institutional Advisors.
- The Tor Project, Institutional Advisors
- ACLU of Massachusetts, Institutional Partners
Do we need such an initiative in India?
Given the past incidents of people being arrested because of what they’ve posted on social media, it is safe to assume that Indian citizens are being monitored. We live in a democratic society and have as much right to privacy as citizens of any other democratic nation.
The above scenarios goes to prove that the state of digital privacy in India is abysmal. People of India need to be educated on the importance of digital privacy. Is there a better place to start than libraries?
The Library Freedom Project is a great initiative to further the cause of digital privacy. A more detailed account of the project can be found here, including the budget required.