Privacy in the Library: what you need to know

In this world of internet hackers and identity thieves, privacy has become an important issue.  I learned privacy basics that go beyond our digital ID, medical records, personal  and financial information in a recent Webinar sponsored by the American Association of Law Libraries (“AALL”) on November 6, of 2014.

 Presenters’ Sarah Lamdan of City University of New York School of Law,  and Rachel Gordon, Access Services Librarian of Mercer University School of Law discussed the development of privacy rights in our laws, and more specifically the ways in which these rights operate to protect patrons and users of law libraries. Their presentation highlighted some familiar federal laws that operate to protect privacy rights.  We have all heard of  FOIA, HIPPA, along with the Patriot Act, which gave the federal government the right to request library borrowing records.  Presenters said that both the American Library Association and the AALL were opposed to this expansion of government power and saw it as an erosion of the privacy rights that all citizens enjoy under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

All of this got me wondering what protections are offered to California users of libraries.  Is someone looking at our searches? Is anyone looking out for us?  The answer is a resounding yes.  California, it appears, is on the forefront of protecting internet and library years from invasions of privacy.  The National Council of State Legislatures website is filled with specific code sections under California law that protect library users.  For example CA Govt. Code section 6267 protects “Library borrowing records, internet searches, and library reference or research requests.” California Civil Code section 1798.90 known as the California Reader Privacy Act protects the rights of readers by prohibiting the disclosure of the books that people check out, limits access to information that can be attached to a particular person and as The National Council State Legislatures website says, a search warrant, court order or the user’s consent is required before disclosure of this information. 

In 2011 Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 445 which amended Government Code section 6267.  This code ensures that registration records, circulation records, online communications, computer searches and checkout records remain private.  This law offers even broader protections to library users than past laws.

Much remains to be done  to protect our hard won privacy rights.  We can each do things to protect our own privacy.  Don’t surrender personal information without question.  Presenters Lamdan and Gordon suggest that when information  is requested, ask why it is needed, who is protecting it and for what purpose it is being gathered. Further,  they say that every library should have a privacy policy.  They point to LA County Public Library’s privacy policy as one to emulate.  If we know our rights and the law in California, we can have confidence that our information and the privacy guaranteed to us by the First Amendment is never jeopardized!


By rcll

December 16, 2014

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