Liberties in the Library: Updates

This page contains 'Liberties in the Library' updates as sent out on the FAIFE Network mailing list. The updates are curated by IFLA Headquarters, and we welcome suggestions for stories from around the world - e-mail us here to share your ideas.

January 2017

Table of Contents

Liberties in the Library

Liberties in the Wider World


Privacy and Digitisation of Archives

A research piece looks at the degree to which the digitisation of public records may raise issues about privacy. It underlines the difference between ‘public’ data kept in archives, and ‘public data’ once it is put online for all, notably in people’s expectations. Similar issues have been encountered around the digitisation of newspaper articles and the right to be forgotten for example.

Access to Information

The French Library Association has released a statement to mark the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Citing the example of the steps taken by the New York Public Library and ALA in the US, it recommends to its own members not to keep data beyond what is required by law, and reminds us both of new security laws passed in the country, and the case of a man sent to prison for two years for repeated visits to Jihadi sides from a library computer. Based on the Library Charter (Bib’Lib), it calls for more libraries to introduce tougher data protection policies.

Library Babel Fish highlights the creation of Operation 451, led by a group of US librarians, looking to support those who in turn support freedom of expression and access to information, the right of all to use libraries, and the First Amendment right of free speech. As the Library Babel Fish piece sets out, while an academic library can more easily justify buying a book with extreme views (Milo Yannopoulos’ latest, in this instance), public libraries may both be at more risk of annoying their users, regardless of the decision they take.

Freedom of Religion/Secularism

A recent report from the French National Inspector of Libraries looks at the role libraries play in promoting secularism and managing religious difference. Underlining the obligation on public institutions in France to ensure no religious discrimination and promote secular public life, it runs through the variety of activities where these obligations may play out – collection development, literacy and training efforts, outreach, and ensuring pluralism across the board.

Threats to Libraries

Boingboing reports on an increasing incidence of hate behaviour in libraries in the US (also covered more broadly in the New York Times). This refers primarily to the defacement of books on particular topics. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has committed to collecting reports of incidences of hate crimes in libraries, including graffiti and unacceptable behaviour.


Open Government

As part of the preparations for the Open Government Summit in December 2016, the Brookings Institute published a study into the impacts of open government policies – namely those that look to increase transparency, public engagement, and government responsiveness. Looking across the literacy, the report finds that the most successful efforts seem to have a clear idea of the stakeholder group targeted (media, segments of the public or civil society etc), and produce information that is both interesting for and accessible to this audience. There is also this index of open data, by country, which aims to rate and rank countries across a number of criteria.

On a national level, ALIA in Australia continues to engage on open government, with their engagement in the preparation of the government’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan rewarded with a mention in the final document. ALIA is continuing to push for a more effective public data infrastructure, a single portal for government grants, and continued support for the digitisation and making available of cultural heritage.

The new IFLA Statement on Public Legal Information has been covered in a separate e-mail, but there have been moves in the US to tackle the issue of the high cost of federal court papers, which are calculated on a per-page (or per-number-of-bytes) basis.

Open Data

The Guardian has collected a series of opinions as to where open data initiatives will focus in the coming year. On the positive end, there is hope for more competition between governments about who can be best at being open, as well as the development of open models for applying data. On the downside, there are fears that unless more is done to engage NGOs and others, the promise of open data will not be realised. In the meanwhile, companies will need to think about whether to look more at commercialising  products based on open data, or making their own data open in order better to combine it with that from others.

Privacy Around the World

The UN has adopted a resolution on the right to privacy in a digital age. While these are a relatively regular occurrence, the emphasis that governments can respond to legitimate security concerns without compromising privacy, and that private actors increasingly have a role in ensuring this, is useful.

In a judgement related to two separate cases, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that general data retention obligations imposed by governments on communications service providers are not acceptable (AccessNow). Targeted retention obligations can only be used when a serious crime is in question, and then only for the duration of the investigation.

Following a leak of EU e-Privacy proposals, the International Association of Privacy Professionals has offered this summary of its contents. Key points include the fact that the proposals cover over-the-top services (such as WhatsApp), that a regulation, rather than a directive is now used (meaning direct and hopefully uniform effect across the bloc), and the fact that rules now apply to devices as opposed just to software or services. With the rise of the Internet of Things, this is likely an important step. The remaining questions are around when the rules will come into effect (only for devices marketed once the rules come into force), and whether they end up setting the standard around the world.

The formal proposals are now out, and also include protection for meta-data (for example, where people are calling from, unless there is consent), and a ban on spam. EDRi has given them a relatively warm welcome, recognising that they have resisted many of the pressures from industry, but have suggested that much more needs to be done.

Polling data from the EU suggests a gap between consumers (who want higher confidentiality) and businesses (who don’t want to see new opportunities stifled) in terms of perceptions of how privacy in electronic communications should be protected. A key recommendation coming out appears to be a call for over-the-top service providers to be obliged to follow the same rules as others.

Finally, EDRi has offered its own look ahead for 2017. The ePrivacy proposals are likely to be a major issue, alongside ‘access to evidence’ rules for cybercrime (which risk being a backdoor to foreign government use of national data), and privacy issues in the Telecoms review. 

Moldova too is looking to introduce surveillance laws, according to EDRi (you’ll need to scroll down to the story), with broad data retention obligations, as well as imposing internet blocking.

In the United Kingdom, there are already efforts to launch a judicial review into the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – the Investigatory Powers Act that allowed for much greater stocking and government access to personal data. Given the Court of Justice of the European Union decision, outlawing such blanket data retention policies, there should be grounds for the review to go ahead.

In the United States, following threats to roll-back net neutrality rules, there are also signs of an effort from the industry to get rid of rules that banned ‘pay for privacy’ offers by ISPs. These, in effect, offered consumers cheaper internet, on the condition that they also accepted lower levels of privacy (and so more harvesting of data for advertising and other commercial purposes).

The E-Mail Privacy Act is back however, with provisions forcing law enforcement authorities to get a warrant in order to view e-mails all e-mails (not just those which are over 180 days old). While receiving unanimous support previously, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee had not pushed the bill forwards in 2016, but there is hope that it will fare better in 2017. Federal authorities have tried to resist the Act, suggesting it will limit their ability to track crime.

Moreover, there is also a growing number of tech companies which have pre-emptively refused to collaborate with any efforts to build a registry of Muslims in the US, not least Apple, Google and Facebook. Twitter too has taken a stand against surveillance, and companies are now regularly publishing information on government requests for data.

Wikipedia has also updated on its efforts to tackle wide-reaching surveillance rules, and in particular the NSA’s powers to capture and retain information that passes through the Internet’s backbone. After an initial set-back where they were denied the right to bring the case, they are trying again.

The Internet Archive has twice made the news, firstly following its decision to make a back-up copy of its files in Canada (following the election of Trump), but also received a national security letter, demanding information about a particular internet user. They managed to challenge this, and make a redacted version of the letter public, given a mistake made in the letter about the appeals process. This piece from McClatchy DC sums up potential concerns for libraries faced with growing surveillance and government demands for user data.

Microsoft has also been under the spotlight for the data collection practices of Windows 10 software, especially as computing moves to the cloud, and systems like Windows are offered as a service, rather than as a downloadable ‘product’. France in particular has called Microsoft out for its practices. Meanwhile, this blog looks specifically at the situation of library users, whose clicks on book covers may lead to data being leaked to Amazon through tracking.

Privacy Issues

An interesting piece in The Atlantic suggests that the Internet would be a more civil place if steps were taken to give an alternative to the built-in anonymity that its architecture provides. While not proposing an end to the option of anonymity, it suggests that things would be more positive if people could choose to deal only with those who reveal their identities. Most interestingly, perhaps, the article conflates privacy and anonymity, raising interesting questions about where the boundaries of privacy may lie.

A research project based on interviews with TOR users and Wikipedia contributors looked at their concerns about loss of privacy as part of contributing to projects like Wikipedia, and its consequences. The paper itself sets out concerns about impacts on professional and personal life, as well as to threats and attacks liked to decisions taken as a Wikipedia editor. Wikipedia itself has reviewed the article, pointing out some weaknesses in the  methodology and highlighting measures already in place on the Wikipedia platform to preserve privacy.

Digital rights organisation EDRi has produced a set of tools for trying to teach children about the risks to privacy from online activities – these are available here.

Global Pulse, a UN initiative designed to develop the potential of big data for driving development, set up an Data and Privacy Advisory Group in 2014, with the task of looking at the potential privacy concerns with the use of big data, and how these could be overcome. It has now reported, underlining the fragmentation of the data privacy law landscape, highlighting the need for principles on fair use of data, risk management, consent and effective public-private partnerships, and for action on avoiding re-identification of individuals, and security.

Linked to this, an interesting short essay on Digital Culture and Society looks at the idea of ‘group privacy’ – the way in which individuals are placed in groups by algorithms or marketing strategies, often without their knowledge, and then their behaviour is influenced by outside actors. Another piece in TechCrunch from a founder of looks at the new bounds of privacy in the Internet age, and why it is still important.

The Open Society Foundation is looking at how the rise of the ‘quantified society’ – built on metrics, measurement and analysis of the results – could harm human rights. The fear is that while use of algorithms and other means of predicting behaviour and choices using data could promote efficiency, it can also limit this choice and discriminate. OSF is supporting work in this area.

There has been increasing concern about the risks to privacy posed by the Internet of (unsafe) Things. With many predictions for 2017 anticipating an explosion in this technology, others are worrying that devices are vulnerable to hacking. If this happens, they can share information that is either very personal, or at least which reveals a lot about habits and preferences, without consent. This Guardian article sets out the risks.

Freedom of Expression

UNESCO’s latest communication and internet discussion notebook focuses on freedom of expression and the Internet. This attempts to look at the issues around the way that the idea of a right of freedom of expression and opinion, as included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, is valid today in the Internet age. It is available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and makes recommendations for universal access, net neutrality, judicial oversight of necessary restrictions on free speech, and allowing for freedom of (virtual) assembly.

A special edition of Eurobarometer (a cross-Europe opinion poll) looks at perceptions of media freedoms and hate speech in the EU. It looks extensively at perceptions of national media (where most do still think that it provides trustworthy information, but there are concerns about government influence), media regulators (which are seen in many cases as subject to political interference), and hate speech online (where there is a high level of awareness, although around half of people still do engage in debates despite this).

There has been concern from French press publishers about a draft law which amends the rules around press freedom. Not only does it open up possibilities to attack ‘unpleasant’ articles (going way beyond the limited list of cases where attack was possible under the 1881 law), but also allows people to attack stories within thirty days not from the date of publication, but 30 days from when the story stops being available. This effectively would allow attacks on online news stories for as long as they are online.

Fake News?

Concerns continue about fake news (including on President-elect Trump’s Twitter feed) continue. Facebook has looked primarily at more work to identify hoaxes and use fact checking (which received some credit from TechDirt), as well as promoting quality journalism, and there have been a growing number of calls for more focus on data and information literacy as a means of allowing people to take smarter decisions about what is and isn’t true. Part of the Facebook approach is to promote technological solutions, although this piece in Forbes Magazine suggests that this is fraught with difficulties.

Meanwhile, a number of very different countries have sought to take various steps to ban ‘fake’ newsGermany, Iran, Italy and China. There are already some calls for the same in Indonesia, where fake news is cited as part of a rise of anti-Chinese feeling in the country. Others are asking for the phrase itself to be banned!

A widely-reproduced article in The Conversation looks at how the rise of ‘fake news’ affects libraries and their work, and in particular their long-standing role in promoting information literacy. It highlights how this work has changed, from knowing where to look in a card catalogue to a more post-modern understanding, where ‘truth is constructed’ and readers need to be a lot smarter about assessing and contextualising sources. Libraries themselves are already looking to help users work out what news is fake or not – here’s one example.

With the storm around fake news, there appear to be new efforts to counter the idea that internet platforms are neutral. On the one side, there is the (apparent) growing recognition by the likes of Facebook and Google that they do need to exercise a measure of editorial control (see stories on fake news below). In parallel, the Scholarly Kitchen (which focuses on the interests of publishers, with a strong anti-OA bias) looks forwards to the end of the cult of ‘disruption’.

Safe Spaces and Filter Bubbles

At the same time as concern about fake news has exploded, there is increasing official attention to the subject of ‘safe spaces’ on campuses and elsewhere. Depending on who is talking, these are either havens where people can take a break from insulting talk and discrimination, or a fundamental attack on free speech. Both the British Prime Minister and President Obama have cited them as a potential problem, worrying that they create bubbles that distort people’s perception of reality and preventing open debate.

The idea of involuntary ‘bubbles’ is already applied to sites like Facebook, which tend to feed people only the sorts of news and views with which they already agree. As with ‘safe spaces’, these risk exposing people only to a limited set of opinions, artificially reducing the range of speech heard.

Net Neutrality

In the US, there is gloom as to the future of net neutrality there, with Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair who had driven through provisions stepping down ahead of Trump taking office. Nonetheless, there is also a suggestion that net neutrality rules had not had any real impact in terms of investment.

In Europe, while recent regulations appear to take a strong stance on net neutrality (see also AccessNow’s post, as well as TechDirt’s), there are already concerns that the Commission’s plan to promote a gigabit society in Europe risk compromising this by favouring video and gaming connections, rather than all without discrimination. Meanwhile, positions on zero rating are not consistent, with Slovenia for example deciding to allow this. The Netherlands has taken the opposite line, cracking down on T-Mobile’s practice of zero-rating its own services.

On an international level, the Dynamic Coalition on Net Neutrality – a grouping established within the context of the Internet Governance Forum – has released a summary report looking into the big Net Neutrality questions in 2016. It focuses extensively on zero rating, as well as other violations of the principle. The coordinator of the Coalition, Luca Belli, has also published an article on the subject, warning on how a combination of usage caps and zero rating could create ‘artificial scarcity’. Separately, this research paper looks at varying discourses on net neutrality in the EU and US.


India’s telecoms regulator, while maintaining its opposition to zero-rating plans from ISPs has suggested that it could support an alternative, with ‘third party aggregators’ controlling the market. Industry-leaning Tech Policy Daily has argued that it is good that the regulator has accepted the value of free data, but criticises the regulator-led approach.

The FCC has at least attempted to crack down on zero-rating offers, on the basis that companies were tending to exempt their own content from data caps in order to gain competitive advantage. This comes in the face of Facebook’s plans to launch Free Basics in the US. TechDirt welcomes the FCC’s proposals, but suggests that it is a case of too little too late in the face of the incoming Trump administration. There was a less positive response still to the FCC’s decision to step back from its efforts to promote municipal broadband networks, which could have provided one means of ensuring faster access – as this Scientific American piece suggests, capacity is still an issue.

Canada is currently discussing zero rating, and whether it should be outlawed. For the time being, the approach seems to be to wait and see, although other countries (notably in Europe) have banned the practice outright.

Wikipedia continues to promote its Wikipedia Zero scheme, with the example of a Jordanian doctor who has been able to undertake many more edits to Arabic language pages.

Right to be Forgotten

We are still waiting for a decision in the French case opposing the national data protection agency and Google – Google itself has underlined, once again, its argument that decisions about the right to be forgotten should be taken on a national rather than a global level. Discussions continue elsewhere however, with this piece suggesting that New Zealand should look at introducing a form of right to be forgotten

In Indonesia, a regulation setting out in which conditions a right to be forgotten can be exercised should be released in early 2017. As part of the legislation that introduced the right as a whole, there are also new powers to cut off users who engage in hate speech, insults of defamation. At the same time, criminal penalties for such activities have been relaxed a little.

Meanwhile in the US, there are signs that Google is also no longer automatically de-indexing names cited in court orders linked to defamation cases, and rather doing things on a case-by-case basis.

Internet Shutdowns

While AccessNow continues its work on internet shutdowns (for example in Congo), there are also fears that Russia’s drive for data localisation could also make it easier for the country to shut itself off from the rest of the world at a time of crisis. This TechDirt post suggests that this stems from the experience of Crimea being cut off from Google because of sanctions after its annexation. If all the necessary data is stored within the country, the argument goes, being shut off need not lead to services falling apart.

Turkey’s efforts to create its own internet services are also highlighted by TechDirt, which worries that it is another candidate for shutting itself off from the rest of the Internet. It also notes government comments that ensuring services are Turkey-based makes it easier to monitor communications over them.

Africa, Internet (Content) and Development

An interesting blog post looks at the need to develop content on the internet that will provide enough of a draw to get people online. With a focus on ensuring that women in particular have the skills and opportunities to take advantage of the open internet, it underlines that while a lot of work would be necessary, the impacts could be significant.

Internet Governance

In addition to the daily blog posts on the IFLA website, a number of reports from the 2016 Internet Governance Forum may be of interest. The overall report includes a short overview of activities in the different ‘baskets’ of work (public access in libraries receives a mention), with a valuable section on key themes – how questions of jurisdiction are worked out, the rise of community networks, the risks of cyber-violence and fake news, and the Internet of Things.

The report on Community Connectivity in particular may be of interest, looking at the scope for using community funding to build networks, rather than rely on profit-making ISPs.

AccessNow has released a policy brief looking into how African countries can ensure that the Internet is secure, but does not threaten human rights. Through analysis of laws in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya. While there is some progress, there is also concern about issues such as intermediary liability, data protection and retention, and freedom of speech issues.

The European Commission has launched its Next Generation Internet initiative, looking to identify key issues for future internet policy. A consultation is ongoing (deadline 9 January), with personal data security and artificial intelligence the emerging priorities, but also a series of meetings and reports on the subject on the platform.

Technology and Human Rights

A new report looks at how new technologies may be able to support those working to defend human rights, notably through documenting incidents. The report finds that while there is potential this has yet to be realised much of the time, partly due to the right tools not being available, but also because those involved in defending human rights have tended to be more focused on the job in hand than finding new ways of achieve their objectives.

Public Knowledge

A new book argues that too much reliance on free markets has a damaging effect on ‘public knowledge’, with libraries named alongside public broadcasting and education as key examples. It suggests that market forces, austerity, industry agendas, quantification and target-setting and developments in the digital world are putting these at threat.

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Freedom of expression, Freedom of information, Freedom to read, faife

Última actualización: 18 Abril 2017