Protecting Patron Privacy in Public Libraries

Electronic Frontier Foundation - Digital Privacy and Security - Library Edition - Bill Budington, Staff Technologist, EFF

Patron privacy is of critical importance to libraries and should be a foundational principle guiding library policy and practice. It is included in the American Library Association's Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. As technology changes rapidly, libraries and librarians are working hard to keep up with digital security issues to better protect the privacy of their users.

We addressed this topic during our TechSoup for Libraries March webinar, featuring guests Bill Budington of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Chuck McAndrew of the Lebanon Public Libraries in New Hampshire. Bill Budington spoke about digital security issues that impact patron privacy in public libraries. He also shared free tools and information from EFF that can be useful for libraries. Chuck McAndrew spoke about some of the actions he has taken at his small library to better protect patron privacy.

Why Are Privacy and Security Important for Librarians?

Bill started off the conversation with a quote from Robert G. Vosper, a noted library leader.

"The library is an open sanctuary. It is devoted to individual, intellectual inquiry and contemplation. Its function is to provide free access to ideas and information. It is a haven of privacy, a source of both cultural and intellectual sustenance for the individual reader."

Bill went on to talk about libraries as open sanctuaries and safe spaces, which is why Internet security is so important. Bill defined several key security concepts, including encryption, metadata, and HTTPS, and explained why these concepts are important for public libraries to consider. Additionally, he gave examples of security and privacy concerns, from advertisers to government surveillance.

examples of email security and privacy concerns

Making Public Wi-Fi Safe to Use

Chuck shared his method for securing Wi-Fi networks at his library and talked about considerations for choosing between open and secured public Wi-Fi networks. He pointed out that an open Wi-Fi connection is only secure if patrons are using end-to-end encryption. While open Wi-Fi may be convenient for patrons, it relies on the patrons' sophistication to protect themselves. With a secured network, your connection is encrypted. It is the best option for protecting patron security and privacy. His library offers both an open (unencrypted) and secure (encrypted) connection and makes both available to patrons so they can choose.

A library wireless network offering both an open (unencrypted) and secure (encrypted) connection

Free Tools for Internet Security and Privacy

Both presenters talked about free tools that libraries can use to better protect patron privacy.

  • HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension that encrypts your communications and is designed to make your Internet browsing more secure.
  • Privacy Badger is a browser extension developed by EFF that blocks spyware and other invisible tracking tools.
  • Tor Browser is a browser that provides strong anonymity protection for users browsing the web.

Privacy Badger blocks spying ads - Downloadable Browser Extension

What is your library doing to provide a secure digital environment for library patrons? How is your library protecting the privacy of patrons in this digital world?

This post provides only a brief overview of the information shared during the webinar. Watch the entire recorded archive here on the TechSoup website.

Original image 1: stevepb / CCO