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What does a New Year bring to our privacy and surveillance?

photoby99hwallpaperThe article below is the first in a two-part series about surveillance.

Thinking about resolutions or intentions for 2014

On this last day of 2013, like most of us, I’ve been thinking about new opportunities and challenges for American Library Association (ALA) work in 2014. There are all the usual important issues the library community must face: library funding at every level of government. Those battles are never-ending and continue to be especially challenging in recent years. Ask the Washington Office about sequestration and federal funds for libraries…

Then there are copyright, broadband and other access issues for all types of libraries, which are ongoing and challenging issues that, at a basic level, are also about funding in terms of “who pays what?” and “who controls the content and access?” More importantly, the question is continually “how can libraries best serve the public?” in various types of library.

Few of our library issues are in the news these days like privacy and surveillance issues, at least at the federal level. Splashed across the news are weekly, sometimes reports, about the breadth and depth of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) continued collection of massive amounts of individualized information. Can you even believe that our government hacked into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone in Germany!

The year 2014 is, for the first time since passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001, an opportunity to push for real surveillance reforms. However, do not underestimate the strength of powerful forces opposing any NSA reform. ALA and our related coalition partners have pushed back against the opponents of reform for all these years. Despite over two dozen reform bills being introduced in Congress in the last six months, reform will not be a quick or easy task.

2013 was the year…..

New surveillance bills were introduced in Congress after contractor Edward Snowden leaked government information in June 2013. Whatever one’s thoughts are about Snowden as a whistleblower/hero or a law-breaker/traitor, the revelations have shown the world what we suspected, but did not know for sure: the NSA and other entities and other governments collected personal information on Americans for many years.

It is far more massive than we ever thought. The revelations have provoked world debate, congressional hearings and even some small changes to what the government will reveal about its surveillance activities. It also means that in the last six months of 2013, there have been many more opportunities for ALA to demand reforms and seek changes to many surveillance policies including reform to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), increased transparency on government activities and the end to the massive collection of personal data, because now we all know more about what the government, especially the NSA, has been doing.

The District Dispatch has reported the many public letters and policy statements ALA has signed with various coalitions. Our allies include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and many diverse other organizations. Lobbying and related activities continue on the issues – especially pushing for support of the USA Freedom Act, S. 1599 and H.R. 3361, one of the more likely bills to be addressed. But in 2014, ALA will have to do far more work and seek far more grassroots involvements if any reforms are to be realized.

As in the past, ALA will continue to argue that the balance is dangerously “out-of-whack” between the protection of our civil liberties and the need to protect people against terrorism and other bad acts. ALA has consistently pushed for reforms based upon the library community’s widespread and longstanding commitment to First Amendment and patron privacy during reauthorizations of or amendments to the PATRIOT Act, FISA or other laws, bills and policies. This work continues, and so must grassroots advocacy.

We now know what we didn’t know…

Moving forward, I’m thinking about the privacy and surveillance issues and how and why we, as library supporters, should be involved. 2013 brought us the needed information. To be continued…….

Happy New Year everyone!

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Lynne Bradley

Lynne Bradley is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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