Voices For Privacy Blog

Guidelines on Contact Tracing, Health Checks, and Library Users’ Privacy

June 29, 2020 | By Erin Berman

All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.

– Article VII Library Bill of Rights

The right to privacy is one of the foundations upon which our libraries are built. Privacy is one of the key reasons libraries are such a trusted part of every community. In a world that thrives on surveillance and data mining, libraries provide a safe place for users of all ages to seek out information free from unreasonable intrusion into or surveillance of their use. As libraries across the world have shut their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we face the challenge of upholding our commitment to not monitor, track, or profile an individual’s library use beyond our operational needs.

Library Bill of Rights Poster ALA Store
Library Bill of Rights Poster $18 ALA Store

Confronted with a global health emergency and civil unrest, now more than ever we must ensure that our libraries continue to provide uninterrupted, safe, and confidential access to our services, in accordance with our core values and the laws that protect the confidentiality of library users’ information.

As libraries begin to reopen, many are faced with the possibility that they will be required to conduct health screenings and contact tracing that may potentially impact library users’ privacy and right to access library services. Libraries that are required to perform health screenings prior to allowing entrance should avoid collecting and storing any medical data and do such screenings in private. The Choose Privacy Every Day website has guidance for libraries on how to do health screenings while maintaining user privacy and confidentiality.

We believe contact tracing has serious implications for libraries. Civil liberties organizations have strong concerns about the potential threat to individual rights posed by the collection of sensitive data that discloses information about individuals’ movements and their social, sexual, religious, and political associations. There is also concern about the potential abuse of any collected data for commercial gain, discrimination, and stigmatization of marginalized groups. A public health surveillance program implemented in the current situation could become permanent, resulting in an irrevocable loss of privacy and civil liberties.

This moment is an opportunity for libraries to step up and reinforce their communities’ faith in them as information safe havens. Instilling the right to privacy into library services is an act of empathy and kindness that we can provide to all of our users. Libraries seeking more guidance can visit the Choose Privacy Every Day website’s Protecting Privacy in a Pandemic Resource Guide and sign up to receive regular updates on privacy-related topics.

Posted in Libraries and Privacy, professional ethics | Tagged , , , , ,

The Privacy Perils of Contact Tracing in Libraries

June 5, 2020 | By OIF staff

As communities struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries are faced with the decision to institute contact tracing, monitoring who comes into the library and restricting access to those who don’t provide their personal information. Libraries should only perform contact tracing when mandated by public health or local officials. If your library is required to perform contact tracing there are specific ways that you can go about it that minimize the risks to users.

Continue reading...
Posted in Libraries and Privacy, Privacy and New Technologies | Tagged , , ,

Vitamin P: Why Privacy is Good for You (And Good for Society, Too)

May 27, 2020 | By OIF staff

Have you ever thought about privacy in the context of wellness? Digital wellness is an approach that seeks to align wellness goals and habits with respect to technology use and the benefits of privacy for well-being. Digital wellness is about exercising conscientious connectivity to achieve a healthy balance between the benefits and harms of technology and personal information disclosure.

Continue reading...
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Calling Users in a Pandemic: Best Practices to Protect Privacy

May 19, 2020 | By OIF staff

As so much of life has been ‘closed down’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries have begun to reach out to their users directly over the phone. These calls, sometimes referred to as wellness checks, come from our professional tradition of service and a genuine concern for the well-being of the users we have come to know so well and care for so deeply. This desire for checking in on our users can come into conflict with our ethical charge to protect user privacy and confidentiality regarding library use. Before jumping into action, take time to think about the purpose of the calls and how they will be done. The guidelines below were developed to help libraries consider if, and how, staff can make calls to users.

Continue reading...
Posted in Privacy Awareness, Privacy in a Pandemic, professional ethics, Protecting Privacy, Voices For Privacy |

When libraries become medical screeners: User health data and library privacy

May 8, 2020 | By Becky Yoose

By: Becky Yoose What will your public library do when you reopen your doors? Some libraries are exploring phased reopening, starting with curbside or no-contact service outside the physical building. Others are investigating what reopening the physical building to library Read more…

Continue reading...
Posted in Choose Privacy Week, Privacy Awareness, Protecting Privacy | Tagged ,


More blog posts »