Privacy at ALA Midwinter – 2021 Recap

Logo for the 2021 ALA Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits.

Patron privacy had several moments in the spotlight at last week’s ALA Midwinter Conference. If you missed the conference or the news updates, no worries! Here are the highlights to help you catch up.

A big moment for privacy resolutions

ALA Council passed two major privacy resolutions during ALA Midwinter, moving the organization and the profession to make a more deliberate stance against surveilling library patrons through facial recognition software and behavioral data tracking. You can read the full text of the original resolutions at the end of the Intellectual Freedom Committee Midwinter Report, but here are the actions called for in each resolution:

Resolution in Opposition to Facial Recognition Software in Libraries

  1. opposes the use of facial recognition software in libraries of all types on the grounds that its implementation breaches users’ and library workers’ privacy and user confidentiality, thereby having a chilling effect on the use of library resources;
  2. recommends that libraries, partners, and affiliate organizations engage in activities to educate staff, users, trustees, administrators, community organizations, and legislators about facial recognition technologies, their potential for bias and error, and the accompanying threat to individual privacy;
  3. strongly urges libraries, partners, and affiliate organizations that use facial recognition software to immediately cease doing so based on its demonstrated potential for bias and harm and the lack of research demonstrating any safe and effective use;
  4. encourages legislators to adopt legislation that will place a moratorium on facial recognition software in libraries; and
  5. directs the ALA Executive Director to transmit this resolution to Congress. [This clause was removed by amendment before the final vote in Council]

Resolution on the Misuse of Behavioral Data Surveillance in Libraries

  1. stands firmly against behavioral data surveillance of library use and users;
  2. urges libraries and vendors to never exchange user data for financial discounts, payments, or incentives;
  3. calls on libraries and vendors to apply the strictest privacy settings by default, without any manual input from the end-user;
  4. urges libraries, vendors, and institutions to not implement behavioral data surveillance or use that data to deny services;
  5. calls on libraries to employ contract language that does not allow for vendors to implement behavioral data surveillance or use that data to deny access to services;
  6. calls on libraries to oversee vendor compliance with contractual obligations;
  7. calls on library workers to advocate for and educate themselves about library users’ privacy and confidentiality rights; and
  8. strongly urges libraries to act as information fiduciaries, assuring that in every circumstance the library user’s information is protected from misuse and unauthorized disclosure, and ensuring that the library itself does not misuse or exploit the library user’s information.

[Disclosure – LDH participated in the Behavioral Data Surveillance Resolution working group]

Each resolution is a strong indictment against surveillance technology and practices, but the resolutions will have limited impact if no further action is taken by the organization or its members. While ALA and its vast array of committees start updating and creating policies, standards, and guidelines to assist libraries in enacting these resolutions, individual libraries can use these resolutions to guide decision-making processes around these technologies on the local level. Library workers can use these resolutions to start conversations about how their libraries should protect patrons against these specific surveillance technologies and practices.

Dystopian future, or dystopian present?

The Top Tech Trends session explored the dystopian aspects of technologies including deepfakes, surveillance practices normalized during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the connection between prison libraries and biometric technologies. The recorded session is available to Midwinter registrants, but if you do not have access to the on-demand video of the session, the American Libraries article on the session summarizes each aspect and the impact it can have on patron privacy and the ability for libraries to serve patrons. Take a moment to read the summary or watch the session and ask yourself – Is your library on its way toward a dystopian tech future, or has it already arrived? What can you do to protect patrons against this privacy dystopia at the library?

Celebrating All Things Data Privacy

Data Privacy Day logo.

Happy early Data Privacy Day from LDH! Even though there might not be an opportunity this year to put cookies in the staff room as a way to educate staff about their less-than-tasty web counterparts, you can still celebrate this day at a safe distance. This January 28th, celebrate the day with your colleagues and patrons with the following suggestions:

This week also marks the second anniversary of the launch of LDH Consulting Services! 2020 proved to be a challenging year for everyone, including fledgling businesses such as ours. Thank you to all of our clients and supporters for your continuing support. You can check out some of the projects and workshops we completed in 2020 on our Services page. We will update the page with our 2021 projects and workshops materials – bookmark the page to keep on top of updates. We’re also accepting new projects and clients for the Fall and Winter 2021/2022 seasons. From privacy training and policy reviews to data audits and risk assessments, LDH can help your library or organization protect patron privacy in your data practices. Contact us to set up an initial consultation – we look forward to hearing from you!

Stop Collecting Data About Your Patrons’ Gender Identity

A four-way stop sign in front of snow-covered tree branches.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ben_grey/4383358421/ (CC BY-SA 2.0)

tl;dr – Your library doesn’t need to collect data about your patrons’ gender identity.

Longer tl;dr – Your library doesn’t need to collect data about your patrons’ gender identity for library workers to do their daily work.

Nuanced tl;dr – Your library doesn’t need to collect data about your patrons’ gender identity 99% of the time, and in that 1% where the data is required, you’re probably doing more harm than good in your collection methods.

This post is brought to you by yet another conversation about including gender identity data in patron records. Libraries collected this data on their patrons for decades; it’s not uncommon to have a “gender” field in the patron record of many integrated library systems and patron-facing vendor services and applications. But why collect this data in the first place?

Two explanations that come up are that gender identity data can be used for marketing to patrons and for reading recommendations. However, these explanations do not account for the problem of relying on harmful gender stereotypes. Take the belief that boys are reluctant readers, for example. Joel A. Nichols wrote about his experience as a children’s librarian and how libraries do more harm than help in adopting this belief:

These efforts presume that some boys are not achieving well in school because teachers and librarians (who are mostly women) are offering them books that are not interesting to them (because they are boys). I find this premise illogical and impracticable, in particular because I am queer: the things that were supposed to interest boys did not necessarily interest me, and the things that were supposed to interest girls sometimes did. Additionally, after years of working in children’s departments, I found over and over again that lots of different things interested lots of different kids. In my experience, it was the parents that sometimes asked for “boy books” or “girl books.” The premise that boys need special “boy” topics shortchanges librarians and the children themselves, and can alienate kids who are queer or genderqueer.

This collection of patron data can be used to harm patrons in other ways, such as library staff misgendering and harassing patrons based on the patron’s gender identity. A recent example comes from the 2019 incident where library staff repeatedly misgendered a minor patron when she was with her parent to sign up for her library card. While the library decided to stop collecting gender identity data on library card applications as a result of the incident, the harm done cannot be remedied as easily as changing the application form.

The ALA Rainbow Round Table recommends that libraries do not collect gender identity data from patrons unless absolutely needed. Since the recommendation in 2015, several libraries evaluated their collection of gender identity data only to find that they were not using that data. Collecting data for “just in case” opens library patrons to additional harm if the library suffers a data breach. If there is no demonstrated business need for a data point, do not collect that data point.

In the rare case that your library absolutely must collect data about the gender identity of your patrons (such as a requirement to report on aggregated patron demographic data for a grant-funded project), care must be taken in collecting this data to mitigate additional harms through alienation and exclusion.  The Rainbow Round Table recommends the Williams Institute’s report “Best Practices for Asking Questions to Identify Transgender and Other Gender Minority Respondents on Population-Based Surveys” as a guide to collecting such data. The Williams Institute has also created a short guide to create survey questions around gender identity. Here are more resources that can guide respectful demographic data collection:

Again, the resources above are only for the rare case that your library absolutely must collect this data from your patrons. Libraries considering collecting gender identity data must review the rationale behind the collection. A patron should not be required to tell the library their gender identity to use the library’s collections and services. Even the act of collecting this data can harm and disenfranchise patrons.

tl;dr – Your library doesn’t need to collect data about your patrons’ gender identity.

In Case of Emergency

A pull fire alarm with a sign next to it stating "Exit Alarm Only - this alarm does not summon the fire dept In case of Fire call 911"
Image source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurablume/5356203877 (CC BY ND 2.0)

Last Wednesday’s attempted insurrection at the US Capitol left many in various states of shock, despair, anger, and grief. As the fallout from the attempt continues to unfold, we are starting to learn more about the possible cybersecurity breaches that resulted from the attempt. Cybersecurity professionals, who are still trying to investigate the extent of the damage done by the SolarWinds attack weeks before, are now trying to piece together what could have been compromised when the mob entered the building. Stolen laptops and other mobile devices, unlocked desktop computers, paperwork left on desks – the immediate evacuation of congresspeople and workers meant that the mob had potential access to sensitive or confidential information as well as sensitive internal systems.            

Leaving a desk, office, or service point immediately to get to safety is a real possibility, even for libraries. Active shooter training has become standard for many US organizations, joining common fire and severe weather drills where staff leave their workstations to head to safe areas. Other library workers have personal experience leaving their work station to get to safety; in one instance, someone I knew barricaded themselves in a work office with other library staff after a patron started attacking them at the information desk. Physical safety comes first. Nonetheless, this leaves information security and privacy professionals planning on how to mitigate the risk that comes with potential data and security breaches in these life-threatening emergencies.

Incident response planning and several cybersecurity strategies help mitigate risk during emergencies where staff immediately leave work areas. Preventative measures can include:

  • Encrypting hard drives on computers and mobile devices
  • Requiring multifactor authentication (MFA) for device and application access
  • Installing remote wipe software to wipe devices if they are reported missing or stolen
  • Not writing down passwords and posting them on computer monitors, keyboards, desks, etc.
  • Conducting an inventory of library staff computers and mobile devices (tablets, phones, etc.)
  • Setting up auto-lock or auto-logoff on staff computers after a few minutes of inactivity
  • Storing confidential or sensitive data in designated secured network storage and not on local hard drives or USB drives
  • Limit access to systems, applications, and data through user-based roles, providing the lowest level of access needed for the user to perform their daily work
  • Storing mobile devices and drives as well as sensitive paper documents in secured areas when not in use (such as a locked desk drawer or cabinet)

After the emergency, an incident response plan guides the process in responding to potential data breaches: containing the damage, removing the attacker from doing more damage, and how to repair the damage. The incident response plan also provides communication plans for users affected in the breach as well as any regulatory obligations for reporting to a government office or official.

All of this will involve a considerable amount of resources and time; however, the time spent in planning and in training (think the tabletop exercises mentioned in our post about gaming in cybersecurity training) will be less time spent after the fact where emotions and stress are running high, resulting in things being missed or falling through the cracks after the emergency.

A Quick Data Privacy Check-in for The New Year

A small orange and white kitten sits on an Apple floppy drive, while a picture of a gray cat is displayed on an Apple monitor.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/50946938@N03/5957820087/ (CC BY 2.0)

Welcome to 2021! We hope that everyone had a restful holiday break. There might be some changes to your work environment for the new year that could affect the privacy and security of your patrons’ data. Let’s start this year off with a quick (and gentle) check-in.

Smart devices

Smartwatches, smart speakers, smart TVs – what new internet-enabled smart device has taken residence in your home, office, or even on your person? You might not know that these devices eavesdrop on your conversations and, in some instances, eavesdrop on what you type. If you are working with a patron or talking with a colleague that includes patron information, what smart devices are in listening range that weren’t before the new year?

Depending on the device, you might be able to prevent eavesdropping; however, other devices might not have this option. Disconnecting the internet from the device is also an option, but this might be more of a hassle than a help. The one sure way to stop a device from eavesdropping is to remove it from listening range, or, better yet, disconnecting the device from its power source.

Computers and mobile devices

A new year could mean a new computer or mobile device. If this is you, and if you are using a personal computer or mobile device for working with patrons or patron data, don’t forget to do the following while setting up your new device:

  • Install antivirus software (depending on your organization, you might have access to free or discounted software)
  • Install the VPN client provided by your organization
  • Install privacy-preserving tools and browser extensions
  • Enable auto-updates for the operating system and any applications installed on the device
  • Review the privacy and security settings for your operating system:
    • Mac and iOS devices – Apple recently published a document listing security and privacy settings on all Apple devices. The tl;dr summary by Lifehacker is a good resource if you’re not sure where to begin
    • Android – Computerworld’s guide to Android privacy is long but worthwhile if you want a list of actions to take based on the level of privacy you want on your device. Also, visit Google’s Data Privacy Settings and Controls page to change your Google account privacy settings (because now is a good time as any to review Google settings).

Evergreen recommendations

Even if you didn’t get a new smart device or computer for the holidays, here are a few actions you can do with any device to start the new year right by protecting your and your patrons’ privacy:

Take a few moments this week to review privacy settings and risks – a moment of prevention can prevent a privacy breach down the road.

Holiday Privacy Reads and Videos

A one eyed black cat with cartoon antlers sitting and looking up.

The Executive Assistant wishes all of our subscribers and readers a happy holiday season!

We will be back at the start of the new year; in the meantime, here are some videos and long reads to keep you company as we go on our holiday break:

Have a safe and healthy rest of 2020!

Patron Privacy Support: Holiday Edition

An orange cat looking at a laptop screen and pawing a mouse tracking pad.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25473210@N00/421211549 (CC BY 2.0)

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but there are still plenty of opportunities to buy the last-minute gift to mark the end of a rough year. Patrons who might have gone to the library to ask for help setting up their new tech gadget will still find their way to the library help desk via chat, email, or phone. Other patrons might come to the help desk with questions from researching which tech gadgets to gift to others (or to themselves!). Why not use this time to do a bit of privacy instruction?

For patrons wondering what to buy – Mozilla’s *privacy not included is an excellent starting point for researching tech gifts that connect to the internet. The guide contains information about data privacy and security for each product and even warns you if a particular product doesn’t meet a minimum security standard.

For patrons who are shopping online – Even though most of our lives have shifted to online thanks to the pandemic, patrons might not have online safety and privacy in mind while shopping online. Account privacy settings, passwords, credit cards, web tracking, digital fingerprinting, phishing emails – the list of vulnerabilities and threats goes on and on. Having a sense of the patron’s threat model will help you determine which guides and resources you can use to help the patron protect their privacy while online. The Virtual Privacy Lab from the San Jose Public Library gives patrons a customizable privacy toolkit they can then use to protect their online privacy and security. You can also send along this short newsletter from SANS about secure online shopping that will help patrons to protect themselves while they shop online.

For patrons setting up their new tech gadget – The patron is excited about their new tech gadget! That is until they can’t figure out how to set it up. This is a great place to introduce privacy-preserving practices found in the Data Detox Kit and in other resources on the Choose Privacy Every Day site to set up their devices to protect their privacy and security right when they start using the gadget.

Last, an evergreen reminderdo not buy or gift an Amazon Ring.

No matter the gadget question or help request this holiday season, there’s always an opportunity to give the gift of privacy to patrons through sharing ways to help them protect their data. While this year might prove a challenge to provide the same level of support at the information or help desk, the above online resources make meeting that challenge a little easier for both the patron and for library staff. Happy shopping and tech support-ing!

FYI – New Newsletter Privacy Policy

Today (as in an hour before publishing our post!) MailPoet announced that it has been acquired by WooCommerce. LDH uses MailPoet for our weekly newsletter mailings. We will be reviewing the new Privacy Policy for the app to decide if we should continue to use the app. While we do not currently use any of the analytics features on MailPoet, we will need to determine if this acquisition means a change in data collection and processing with the third-party vendor. LDH will announce any changes to the newsletter app or other updates in a future post. If you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to email us.

Security Without Privacy

Powerpoint slide listing the types of data collected by typical web app logs, including timestamps, user behavior, biometric data, and geographic location.
Slide from the SNSI October Webinar

Academic libraries have been in the information security spotlight due to the resurgence of Silent Librarian. The collection of academic user accounts gives attackers access to whatever the user has access to in the campus network, including personal data. Attackers gaining access to library patron data was not the reason why academic library information security was in the news again this past month, however.

Protecting The Bottom Line

In late October, the Scholarly Networks Security Initiative (SNSI) presented a webinar [slides, transcript] that made several controversial statements and proposals. The one that caught the attention of the academic researcher and library worlds is the proposal of a publisher proxy tool to monitor user access and use of publisher resources. In the transcript and slides, the proposal included tracking behavioral data in addition to other personally identifiable data. For example, the publisher would actively track the subjects of the articles that the user is searching and reading:

159

00:29:10.020 –> 00:29:17.280

Corey Roach: You can also move over to behavioral stuff. So it could be, you know, why is a pharmacy major suddenly looking up a lot of material on astrophysics or

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00:29:18.300 –> 00:29:27.000

Corey Roach: Why is a medical professional and a hospital suddenly interested in internal combustion things that just don’t line up and we can identify fishy behavior.

While there are other points of contention in the presentation (we recommend reading the transcript and the slides, as well as the articles linked above), the publisher proxy tool brings up a perennial concern around information security practices that libraries need to be aware of when working with IT and publishers.

You Say Security, But What About Privacy?

Security and privacy are not one-to-one equivalents. We covered the differences in security and privacy in a previous post. Privacy focuses on the collection and processing of personal data while security focuses on protecting organizational assets that may include personal data. Privacy is impossible without security. Privacy relies on security to control access and use of personal data. However, there is the misconception that security guarantees privacy. Security is “do one thing and do it well” – protect whatever it’s told to protect. Security does not deal with the “why” in data collection and processing. It does the job, no questions asked.

When security measures like the proxy tool above are touted to protect publisher assets, the question of “why this data collection and tracking” gets lost in the conversation. Libraries, in part, also collect behavioral data through their proxies to control access to library resources. Even though this data collection by libraries is problematic in itself, the fact remains that the data in this proxy is collected by the library and is subject to library policy and legal regulations around library patron data. The same information collected by a vendor tool may not be subject to the same policies and regulations – outside of California and Missouri, there are no state laws specifically regulating vendor collection, processing, and disclosure of library patron data. Therefore, any data collected by the vendors are only subject to whatever was negotiated in the contract and the vendor privacy policies, both of which most likely allow for extensive collection, processing, and disclosure of patron data. Security that uses patron data doesn’t necessarily guarantee patron privacy and could even put patron privacy in jeopardy.

Bringing Privacy into Library InfoSec

Academic libraries are part of a campus system and are one of many ways an attacker can gain access to campus assets, including personal data, as demonstrated by Silent Librarian. However, academic libraries are also targets for increased surveillance in the name of information security, as illustrated by the SNSI presentation. The narrative of “academic library as the weak link in a campus network” can force libraries into a situation where patron privacy and professional ethics are both compromised.  This is particularly true if this narrative is driven by information security professionals not well acquainted with privacy and data ethics or by vendors who might financially benefit from the data collected by this increased surveillance of library patrons.

Library organizations and groups are weighing in on how information security should consider library privacy and data ethics. This Tuesday, ALA will be hosting a Town Hall meeting about surveillance in academic libraries. DLF’s Privacy and Ethics in Technology Working Group and the Library Freedom Project, co-collaborators with ALA’s Town Hall event, will most likely add to the conversation in the coming weeks with resources and statements. We’ll keep you updated as the conversation continues!

In the meantime…

A small postscript to the blog post – one reoccurring theme that we come across when talking to libraries about privacy is the importance of relationships with others in and outside the library. These relationships are key in creating buy-in for privacy practices as well as creating strong privacy advocates in the organization. What type of relationship do you have with your organizational information security folks? Check out this short presentation about building organizational relationships to promote a strong privacy and security culture if you are still wondering where to start.

The Threat Within

A headshot of Chadwick Jason Seagraves with text overlay: 'Anonymous Comrades Collective - Doxer Gets Doxed: "Proud Boy" Chadwick Jason Seagraves of NCSU'

People sometimes ask what keeps privacy professionals up at night. What is that one “worst-case scenario” that we dread? Personally, one of the scenarios hanging over my head is insider threat – when a library employee, vendor, or another person who has access to patron data uses that data to harm patrons. A staff person collecting patron addresses, birthdays, and names to steal the patrons’ identities is an example of insider threat. Another example is a staff person accessing another staff’s patron records to obtain personal information to harass or stalk the staff member.

Last week, an IT employee at NCSU was doxed as a local leader of a white supremacist group. This person, who worked IT for the libraries in the past, doxed individuals, including students in his own university, to harass and, in some cases, incite violence toward the people being doxed. As an IT employee, this person most likely had unchecked access to students, staff, and faculty personal information. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he still had access to patron information, given his connections to the library and his IT staff position.

Libraries spend a lot of time and attention worrying about external threats to patron privacy: vendors, law enforcement, even other patrons. We forget that sometimes the greatest threat to patron privacy works at the library. Library workers who have access to patron data – staff, administration, board members, volunteers – can exploit patrons through the use of their data for financial gain in the case of identity theft or harm them through searching for specific library activity, checkouts of certain materials, or even names or other demographic information with the intent to harass or assault. The reality is that there might not be many barriers, if at all, to stop library workers from doing so.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate insider threat in the library, but the library must be proactive in implementing these strategies for them to be the most effective:

Practice data minimization – only collect, use, and retain data that is necessary for business operations. If you don’t collect it, it can’t be used by others with the intent to harm others.

Implement the Principle of Least Privilege – who has access to what data and where? Use roles and other access management tools to provide staff (and applications!) access to only the data that is absolutely needed to perform their intended duty or function.

Regularly review internal access to patron data ­­– set up a scheduled review of who has what access to patron data. When an employee or other library worker/affiliate changes roles in the organization or leaves the library, develop and implement policies and procedures in revoking or changing access to patron data at the time of the role change or departure.

Confidentiality Agreements For Library Staff, Volunteers, and Affiliates – your privacy and confidentiality policy should make it clear to staff that patrons have the right to privacy and confidentiality while using library resources and services. Some libraries go further in ensuring patron privacy by using confidentiality agreements. These confidentiality agreements state the times when patron data can be access and the acceptable uses for patron data. Violation of the agreement can lead to immediate termination of employment. Here are some examples of confidentiality agreements to start your drafting process:

Regularly train and discuss about privacy  – ensure that everyone who is involved with the library – staff, volunteers, board members, anyone that might potentially access patron data as part of their role with the library – is up to date on current patron privacy and confidentiality policies and procedures. This is also an opportunity to include training scenarios that involve insider threat to generate discussion and awareness of this threat to patron privacy.

A note about IT staff, be it internal library IT staff or an external IT department (campus IT, city government IT, or another form of organizational IT) – Do not automatically assume that IT staff are following privacy/security standards and policy just because they are IT. Now is the time to discuss with your IT connections about their current access is and what is the minimum they need for daily operations. However, even if the IT department practices good security and privacy hygiene (such as making sure they follow the Principle of Least Privilege), any IT staff member who works with the library in any capacity must also sign a confidentiality agreement and be included in training sessions at the very minimum.

A data inventory is a good place to start if you are not sure who has access to what data in the library. The PLP Data Privacy Best Practices for Libraries project has several templates and resources to help with creating a data inventory, assessing privacy risks, and practical actions libraries can take in reducing the risk of an insider threat.

Libraries serve everyone. We serve patrons who are already at high risk for harassment and violence. Libraries must do their part in mitigating the risk that insider threat creates for our patrons who depend on the library for resources and support. Otherwise, we become one more threat to our patrons’ privacy and potentially their lives or the lives of their loved ones.

Just Published – Data Privacy Best Practices Toolkit for Libraries

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Today we’re happy to announce the publication of the Data Privacy Best Practices Toolkit for Libraries. This toolkit is part of the Data Privacy Best Practices Training for Libraries project, an LSTA-funded collaborative project between the Pacific Library Partnership and LDH focusing on teaching libraries the basics of data privacy. This introduction into data privacy in libraries serves as a guide for both administration and front-line workers, providing practical advice and knowledge in protecting patron data privacy.

The cover page for Data Privacy Best Practices Toolkit for Libraries: A Guide for Managing and Protecting Patron Data.

What does the toolkit cover? The topics range from the data lifecycle and managing vendor relationships to creating policies and procedures to protect patron privacy. The toolkit covers specific privacy concerns in the library, including law enforcement requests, surveillance, and data analytics. We also get to meet Mel and Rafaël, two library patrons who have unique privacy issues that libraries need to consider when thinking about patron privacy.  At the end of the toolkit is an extensive resource section with library privacy scholarship, professional standards, and regulations for further reading.

This toolkit is part of a larger group of resources, including templates and examples libraries can use to develop contract addendums, privacy policies and procedures, and data inventories and privacy risk assessments. In short, there are a lot of resources that are freely available for you to use in your library! Please let us know if you have any questions about the project resources.

Finally, stay tuned – the project is going into its second year, focusing on “train the trainer” workshops for both data privacy and cybersecurity. We’ll keep you updated as more materials are published!