Libraries fear ‘ravenous’ NSA | The Hill Blog


The nation’s libraries are backing legislation that would curb the powers of the National Security Agency.


Revelations about NSA surveillance have created a “climate of concern” for libraries, which are seeking to defend the freedom to read and research away from the government’s prying eyes.

“You need to have some freedom to learn about what you think is important without worrying about whether it ends up in some FBI file,” said Alan Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association (ALA).


Government snooping of libraries has a long history. Under the Patriot Act, for example, the FBI has the power to compel libraries to hand over user data.


But the activities of the NSA seem to go far beyond traditional police work, reflecting an “almost ravenous hunger” for collecting information, according to Lynne Bradley, director of the ALA’s Office of Government Relations.


Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the NSA has been collecting vast troves of “metadata” on Internet activity and phone calls that shows when communications were made, who was involved and how long it lasted.


That’s especially troubling to the ALA, as “libraries are all about metadata,” Inouye said.


The records that libraries keep — when a user logs on to a library computer, what websites they visit, when books are borrowed and returned — seem to fit the mold of what the NSA is seeking.


“We’re talking about the information patterns of people. If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is,” Inouye said.


While no libraries are known to have received NSA requests, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been tapped for data.


Just like Internet companies, libraries are prohibited from revealing NSA requests. The ALA is concerned that local libraries are being forced to keep quiet about government snooping.


“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Bradley said.


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Nevermore Sithole‘s insight:

Article argues that government snooping on libraries is on the increase and yet libraries are all about metadata.

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