Contact Tracing At The Library

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Contact tracing has been used in the past with other diseases which helped curve infection rates in populations, so health and government officials are looking at contact tracing once again as a tool to help control the spread of disease, this time with COVID-19. There have been various reports and concerns about contact tracing through mobile apps, including ones developed by Google and Apple. However, mobile contact tracing will not stop local health and government officials in taking other measures when it comes to other contact tracing methods and requirements, and libraries should be prepared when their local government or health officials require contact tracing as part of the reopening process.

While there are no known cases of libraries doing contact tracing as part of their reopening process, there are some ways in which libraries can satisfy contact tracing requirements while still protecting patron privacy.

Collect only what you absolutely need

What is the absolute minimum you need to contact a patron: name, email address, and/or telephone number are all options. Sometimes patrons do not have a reliable way of contacting them outside the library – health and government officials should have recommendations in handling those cases.

But what about having patrons scan in with their library card and using that as the contact tracing log? What seems to be a simple technological solution is, in reality, one that introduces complexity in the logging process as well as privacy risks:

  • Some of the people visiting the library will not have their library card or are not registered cardholders.
  • Contact logs can be subject to search or request from officials – maintaining the separation between the contact log and any other patron information in the library system will minimize the amount of patron data handed over to officials when there is a request for information.

Paper or digital log?

Some libraries might be tempted to have patrons scan in with their barcodes (see above section as to why that’s not such a good idea) or keep an electronic log of patrons coming in and out of the building. However, an electronic log introduces several privacy and security risks:

  • Where is the digital file being stored? Local drive on a staff computer that isn’t password protected? Network storage? Google Drive (yikes!)?
  • Who has access to the digital file? All staff in the library?
  • How many other copies of the file are floating around the library’s network, drives, or even printed out?

In this instance, however, a paper log will provide better privacy and security protections when you take the following precautions:

  • The paper log should be securely stored in a locked cabinet or desk in a secured area, preferably a locked office or other controlled entry space.
  • During business hours, the paper log should be filled out by designated staff members tasked to collect information from patrons. Do not leave the paper log out for patrons to sign – not only you give patrons the names of others in the building (for example, a law enforcement agent can read the log and see who’s in the building without staff knowledge) you also potentially expose patrons and staff to health risks by having them share the same hard surfaces and pen.
  • Restrict access to the paper log to only staff who are designated to keep logs, and prohibit copying (both physical or electronic copies) of the log.

Equitable service and privacy

Some patrons might not have reliable contact information or might refuse to give information when asked. If the local government or health officials state that someone can’t enter a building if they don’t provide information, how can your library work with your officials in addressing the need for libraries to provide equitable service to all patrons who come to the library?

Retention and disposal

Keep the contact tracing logs for only as long as the government or health officials require. If there is no retention period, ask! Your logs should be properly disposed of – a paper log should be shredded and the shredded paper should go to a secured disposal area or service.

Keeping a log of visits to the library is something not to be taken lightly – you are creating a log of a patron’s use of the library. Several other privacy concerns might be specific to your library that could affect how you go about contact tracing, such as unaccompanied minors. Contact tracing is an effective tool in containing disease outbreaks in the past, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of losing entire personal privacy if the library works with its staff and government officials in creating a process that minimizes patron data collection, access, and retention.

Choose Privacy Week Recap

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

This weekend was hot in Seattle, with temperatures near 90 F. While the Executive Assistant took this time to bask in this heat, we at LDH tried to find a cool spot in the home office to work, away from the Executive Assistant’s gaze.

Last week was a busy week on the Choose Privacy Every Day site for Choose Privacy Week! Here’s what you might have missed:

  • Virtual Programming and Patron Privacy – Jaime Eastman along with the ALSC Children and Technology committee give much-needed guidance for library workers who are moving children-oriented programs and services online due to the pandemic. The post goes into the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and what library workers need to do to protect the privacy of children while keeping in compliance with COPPA. Bookmark the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Resource Guide for additional guidance (coming soon!).
  • Protecting Privacy In A Pandemic: A Resource Guide – On Friday, May 8th, OIF hosted a Privacy Town Hall about patron privacy. While we wait for the recording of the Town Hall event, the blog post lists the main topics and resources covered by the panelists in the Town Hall.
  • When libraries become medical screeners: User health data and library privacy – Some libraries are now giving medical screenings to patrons who want to enter the library building. What privacy risks are there in collecting health data of your patrons? Read the article by LDH to find out why library workers might not be the best choice in handling health data.

Finally, if you have that one library privacy topic that you’ve been meaning to write about or if you want to share your privacy thoughts to a wide audience, Choose Privacy Every Day is looking for blog authors! There are some requirements for being an author for the blog, but this is a great opportunity to get your ideas and thoughts out into the library world.

That’s a wrap! Or, at least, the computer core temperature says it’s time to put the computer in the freezer. If you’re on the West Coast, stay cool, and for those of you who got snow on the East Coast, stay warm!

COVID-19 Updates And More Privacy Considerations

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat, everyone.

It’s been a week for many of us as COVID-19 rapidly changed both work and personal lives. During the last newsletter, public events were still going on, schools and libraries were still open, and we were not in a pandemic. This newsletter is being composed in a completely different world in Seattle – closed schools and libraries, canceled events, and the realization that COVID-19 is much more widespread than previously thought.

This week, many libraries are closed to the public, while other libraries that are still open are being pressured to close to protect the health of their staff. This means staff might be working from home for the first time, or are trying to move in-person library instruction online. The Library Freedom Project provides a good list of privacy considerations for online instruction. Academic and school libraries should also be aware of the updated guide on FERPA and COVID-19 and how student privacy is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the general world, healthcare professionals, as well as employers, are struggling to find a balance between personal privacy and disclosure in the context of HIPAA regulations.

The rapid developments of last week also presented a challenge – how do you protect privacy while at the same time keeping up with changes at work? Many work from home arrangements were hastily put together with less than 24 hours’ notice, leaving IT departments scrambling to figure out if VPN or other remote access to staff systems can handle the increased user traffic, but at the same time might not realize that the remote access method has a vulnerability, such as an unknown open port, or even providing access to internal applications without special logins or IP restrictions. IT staff should ensure that only staff can access work systems and network drives, including requiring VPN use to access these places as well as additional authentication and user access rules. In short, IT staff have their work cut out for them in the next few weeks. Nonetheless, there have been many guides published in the last week, like this one from NC Department of Information Technology, for people working from home and what they can do to protect their digital privacy and security.

On the public services side, online communications between staff might take a variety of forms, from an increased number of emails to online web conferencing. If the organization doesn’t offer an online group collaboration platform, like Microsoft Teams, staff might take to free third party applications, such as Slack, Discord, or your tried and true suite of Google products. Patron privacy might be compromised if patron data is shared on unsecured applications, as well as places that are subject to a public records disclosure request. Therefore, it’s a good time to remind everyone to keep patron privacy in mind in working from home, including limiting storing and communicating patron data to secure communication channels controlled by the organization.

It’s impossible to keep track of every COVID-19 development, and libraries have struggled to respond to these changes. With more libraries closing and trying to keep staff busy, we cannot forget that the choices we make during the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting consequences on data privacy for some time to come. It’s hard to step back and take a breath to reassess where everything stands on patron privacy, but it’s worth the effort to take a few moments to go through the library’s response so far and ask how each response might put patron privacy at risk.

COVID-19: Resources and Privacy Considerations

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Some of you might already know that LDH is based out of Seattle. Seattle has been in the news with the recent COVID-19 cases and deaths in the area. We at LDH are staying relatively healthy (outside of it being allergy season in town). Nonetheless, some of you have also been impacted by COVID-19, including institutional travel restrictions, dusting off the disaster policy and procedures, and fielding questions from both staff and patrons about what will happen when there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 in your area.

There’s a lot of information out there regarding COVID-19 and what you should do to help slow the spread of the infection. Some sources include:

The most important things to keep in mind during this time:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS WITH SOAP AND WATER. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold water. There are several memes out there with lists of songs you can sing for about 20 seconds, be it Happy Birthday, the opening trumpet solo in Mahler’s 5th, or the chorus to this song.
    Hand sanitizer (store-bought, not homemade) is also an option, but not as effective as washing your hands with soap and water. [1]
  • Cover coughs and sneezes using your elbow or tissue (then throwing the tissue away).
  • If you are able, stay home if you are sick. This is not an option for those who do not have paid sick time, or if there’s a lack of coverage at work. If you do have the privilege to stay home, do so.
  • Extra cleaning of any hard surfaces as well as public or shared areas, such as open offices and break rooms.

COVID-19 has also brought up some good reminders and discussions surrounding privacy in a time of a possible pandemic:

Here are a few more articles surrounding the COVID-19 and the possible long-term implications to privacy regulations and public discourse:

Stay safe and healthy in the coming weeks!

[1] You would be surprised by the number of people who do not wash their hands regularly; this is something you should be doing anyway in normal circumstances. Hence, the shouting. Forever shouting about the washing of hands.