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Tip of The Hat

21 September 2019

"It's complicated": GDPR Compliance and US Libraries


Hello and welcome to the inaugural issue of Tip of The Hat! Today's topic is the complicated relationship between GDPR compliance and US Libraries.

We mean it when we say it's complicated.
Many academic and public libraries scrambled in 2018 to determine if they would need to comply with the European Union's launch of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Some libraries, particularly academic and special libraries, are following the lead of their parent organization in deciding if they need to comply. In the case of academic libraries, some higher education institutions have satellite campuses in the European Union, making compliance almost a certainty. Public libraries find themselves wondering if they need to comply even though they do not have a physical presence in the EU. Instead, public libraries might have EU citizens with library cards (if they are visiting workers or students, for example) or otherwise have EU citizens using library resources that collect user information.

In her article for the The Privacy Advisor, Katya Kulesova, CIPP/US, lays out five questions for US organizations wondering if they fall under the scope of GDPR:
  1. Do you personalize your goods or services for EU customers?
  2. Do you target EU users with advertising campaigns?
  3. Is there an establishment in the EU that is processing personal data on your entity’s behalf?
  4. Do you monitor European users?
  5. Do you have a large customer base in the EU?
Katya explores each question, noting key gray areas that can pop up in each question. For example, does using web analytic software, such as Google Analytics, on the library website count as monitoring EU users? If you are using that data to create user profiles that would then be used to influence user behavior, you might fall under the scope of GDPR.

The best way to determine if your library needs to comply with GDPR is to talk with your legal council. Nonetheless, GDPR case law is few and in between, and it could take a couple of years to build a solid foundation of case law surrounding GDPR enforcement. In the meantime, these questions can help you and your legal council start the conversation about GDPR compliance.

Even if your legal council advises that your library does not fall under the scope of GDPR, you may still want to implement some of the privacy requirements laid out in the regulation. Many state laws, including the California Consumer Privacy Act, share many similarities with GDPR. With talk of a federal privacy law in recent months, it's only a matter of time until US libraries will need to look into revising data privacy policies and procedures to comply to state and/or federal law. Take advantage of the advanced notice GDPR is giving you and start work now on your procedures and policies - you'll be in good standing when your library is covered under an upcoming state or federal privacy law!

A few more resources surrounding GDPR and US libraries:
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