Morris Library to host mass surveillance presentation

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

The federal government and their corporate partners are spying on everybody.

From Google searches to text messages, Facebook posts to online purchases — no activity conducted on an electronic device is safe from Big Brother’s snooping eyes and ears.

However, there are measures individuals can take if they wish to protect themselves from mass surveillance. Encryption, softwares and other tools can safeguard private information when used properly.

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Students, staff, faculty and community members can learn the importance of privacy in the age of mass surveillance and how to protect themselves online at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Guyon Auditorium.

The free event is facilitated by Morris Library and will feature a presentation by Alison Macrina, director of the Library Freedom Project.

By teaching librarians and communities about surveillance threats, privacy rights and privacy-protecting technology tools, the project hopes to make the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries a reality. 

Macrina said when she heard the U.S. government was secretly spying on the private lives of its citizens, she knew she had to do something and founded the project a year and a half ago.

In 2012, Edward Snowden leaked hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents to two American journalists, revealing the largest mass surveillance operation in world history.

The measures have been defended by President Barack Obama and various governmental agencies in the name of counterterrorism.

“The telephone metadata program under [the Patriot Act] was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible,” Obama said. 

However, the idea that the government needs to conduct mass surveillance to combat terrorism and keep Americans safe is not supported by any evidence, Macrina said.

“Make no mistake, mass surveillance is a tool for social control,” she said. “It is an undemocratic measure of governmental overreach. It has nothing to do with fighting crime.”

Macrina said people are unlikely to research what they want and speak freely if they know they are being spied on.

“Surveillance has a chilling effect on speech,” Macrina said. “If you feel like you’re being watched, you won’t say the things that you want to say, you won’t read the things that you want to read.”

Susan Tulis, associate dean of information services at Morris Library, said privacy in the library is a big issue, citing the importance of freedom and privacy in intellectual pursuits.

“It’s nobody’s business what books you are checking out,” Tulis said.

She said libraries are generally serious about protecting their patrons’ information. 

One example of how Morris Library protects user information is that once a patron checks a book back into the library, all records of that book being checked out are erased.

Not only that, but Morris is currently rewriting its privacy policy to further increase the security of activity conducted within its walls. The policy is expected to be finalized in a few months, Tulis said.

Although patron information is not accessible to workers of the library, because of the post-Sept. 11 passing of the Patriot Act, governmental agencies can request specific user’s information. She said Morris Library has never received such a request.

Macrina encourages students to attend the event and place pressure on university administration to support measures that protect the privacy of those on campus. 

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SamBeard_DE

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