LACUNY Institute 2015

Document Type


Publication Date



Open Technology Institute, Data & Society Research Institute


In the past few years, libraries have started to design public programs that educate patrons about different tools and techniques to protect personal privacy. But do end user solutions provide adequate safeguards against surveillance by corporate and government actors? What does a comprehensive plan for privacy entail in order that libraries live up to their privacy values? In this paper, the authors discuss the complexity of surveillance architecture that the library institution might confront when seeking to defend the privacy rights of patrons. This architecture consists of three main parts: physical or material aspects, logical characteristics, and social factors of information and communication flows in the library setting. For each category, the authors will present short case studies that are culled from practitioner experience, research, and public discourse. The case studies probe the challenges faced by the library—not only when making hardware and software choices, but also choices related to staffing and program design. The paper shows that privacy choices intersect not only with free speech and chilling effects, but also with questions that concern intellectual property, organizational development, civic engagement, technological innovation, public infrastructure, and more. The paper ends with discussion of what libraries will require in order to sustain and improve efforts to serve as stewards of privacy in the 21st century.


This presentation was given as part of the 2015 LACUNY Institute.



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