Archive for July, 2009

Google and Reader Privacy

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

One of the concerns raised about the proposed Google Book Search Settlement is the lack of any built in protections for user privacy. The library associations raised it as one of the issues the court should continue to monitor in their amicus brief filed with in May.  Now, the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF), along with the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley, has written a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt calling for Google to implement specific steps that will protect users’ private online book reading in the same way that our print reading is protected.

Specifically, they are asking Google to protect readers’ records “by responding only to properly-issued warrants from law enforcement and court orders from third parties,” to delete their user logs after 30 days, to grant readers total control of the books they’ve purchased and their purchasing records, and to inform readers of what information about them is being collected and who it is being shared with.

These seem to be rather minimal expectation of reader privacy. If Google is going to become a bookstore, they ought to be bound by the same ethical standards that print boosktores practice. If you agree, EFF has also provided an easy mechanism for you to send CEO Schmidt your own customized message making this point.

– Dan Lee

Threats to Academic & Intellectual Freedom

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

At the “Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus…” program at ALA, Jim Neal of Columbia University presented the audience with a list of 24 threats to these freedoms. With his permission, the list is reproduced below. Many of these threats are familiar to most of us, especially those related to the USA Patriot Act and to copyright law. Others, such as #7, #11, #14, #20, and #23, may not be as obvious. The possibility that Institutional Review Boards can “limit, alter, or undermine faculty research” (#20) stimulated discussion at the program as audience members expressed doubt that IRB’s are a threat to freedoms. Jim maintained that there can be biases among IRB members, just as such biases exist in editorial review boards. These are the 24 threats:

1. Modification of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Expansion of nonconsensual release of student records to government officials
2. Modification of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Expansion of definition of business records to embrace library, bookstore and internet service provider transactions.
3. Colleges and universities asked to permit government agents, without court order, to intercept the wire or electronic communications of persons regarded as “computer trespassers.”
4. Expansion of surveillance, wiretaps, search warrants, pen/trap orders and subpoenas for access to information about individuals with reduced judicial checks and balances.
5. Expanded definition of “domestic terrorism” and potential impact on legitimate protest activity and threatened opening of surveillance of campus political and religious organizations.
6. Ability of U.S. courts to use intelligence obtained by foreign governments in ways that would otherwise be illegal and would limit international travel and communication of faculty and students.
7. Students and scholars from designated world areas will be subject to extraordinary surveillance and harassment, affecting ability to recruit and retain international students and researchers at U.S. colleges.
8. Introduction of video surveillance cameras and biometrics technologies to monitor and observe individual activities.
9. Harmful to Minors laws and ability of students to access information electronically and use academic library resources without parental consent or filters.
10. Expanding use of web pages, blogs, email, text messages, social forums raise new concerns about intellectual freedom and actions by governments and universities.
11. Globalization of education and research teams extends work of U.S. students and faculty into arenas with very different legal, cultural, and moral standards.
12. Political biases of teacher can undermine open debate in the classroom and threaten students with risk of embarrassment or punitive action.
13. Rapid increase in adjunct and contract faculty who may not enjoy same academic freedoms and protections as full-time, tenured faculty.
14. Creation of mass digitized databases of published content with risks of removal of content and monitoring of individual use.
15. Removal of books from library collections, content or links from publisher databases and organizational web sites because of objections raised. Or failure to develop collections or select materials in balanced way.
16. Copyright balance being eroded and access to information being reduced by:
a. Technological Protection Measures/Anti-Circumvention
b. Limitations on Fair Use
c. Increased Personal and Institutional Liabilities
d. Terns of Protection Expanded
e. Private Law of Contract Dominant
f. Public Domain Constrained
17. Government information being withdrawn from agency web sites and removed from depository collections, thus reducing flow of information to public.
18. Refusal of publishers or editorial boards to accept manuscripts on controversial topics and the future viability of the peer review process.
19. Corporate or military funding of faculty research can alter priorities, influence results, limit distribution and raise concerns about integrity of scholarship.
20. Institutional review boards focused on human subject, treatment of animals, and other compliance monitoring can limit, alter, or undermine faculty research.
21. Government contract offices are asserting control over research results and demanding right to review before publication.
22. Federal funding agencies are raising concerns about “sensitive” research results being disclosed, creating a new form of “classified” information.
23. Open access policies and institutional copyright policies may limit publishing and distribution rights of faculty.
24. Slippery Slopes:
Legally Permissible versus Morally Responsible
Individual Rights versus Institutional interests
Culture Wars/Speech Codes/Political Correctness
Computer Appropriate Use Policies
Community Standards/Family Values
National Security/Patriotism

–Doris Ann Sweet

Audience Comments & Concerns from “Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus”

Friday, July 24th, 2009

On July 11, 2009, the ACRL Intellectual Freedom Committee held the program “Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus: Are Our Freedoms Secure in the Next Generation?”  As part of the presentation, we asked the audience members to jot down the top three concerns or threats to intellectual freedom on their campuses. Twenty-two of the seventy audience members did so. The committee members used these comments as inspiration for questions for our three speakers–James Neal, Barbara Fister, and Shawn Healy. The IFC will also use them in planning future programs and projects.

The responses we received are attached to this posting. They are well worth giving a look. Some provide frontline details from librarians grappling with these issues. Others are more suggestive. Both offer substantial food for thought.

In the quick analysis the committee performed while the program was in progress, the most prominent threats to campus intellectual freedom seemed to be

  • Apathy
  • Absence of an intellectual climate (higher ed as job preparation)
  • Conformity (intolerance for diverse opinion)
  • Internet filtering and monitoring
  • Concern of campus administration with public relations and controlling image

I think these five comments will merit discussion here in the weeks to come.

—Paul Beavers

Audience Comments from ACRL IFC Annual Conference Program, Chicago 2009

An Extreme Take on Privacy

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Vanish, the University of Washington’s new prototype for a “self-destructing data system”, is now available as a Firefox plug-in. Its creators say that “In many ways,  Vanish begins to approximate the ephemeral nature of a phone call.”

More here.

ACRL IFC Program at Annual

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus:
Are Our Freedoms Secure in the Next Generation?

Saturday, July 11, 2009
3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Hyatt Regency McCormick, Conference Center Room 10 C/D

Four panelists will explore threats to freedoms on our campuses, how to inspire students to discover and explore intellectual freedom as central to the teaching and learning experience, the importance of teaching students to be the next generation of intellectual freedom and First Amendment defenders, and how academic librarians can form partnerships and mount effective campaigns to keep the fight for freedoms alive while engaging students in the process.


James Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University and Freedom to Read Trustee

Megan Fitzgerald, Program Director, Center for Campus Free Speech, Chicago, IL

Barbara Fister, Professor and Academic Librarian, Gustavus Adolphus College

Shawn Healy, Managing Director, McCormick Freedom Museum, Chicago, IL