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The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee
In light of mounting concerns over user privacy and government surveillance of internet activity, the Intellectual Policy Committee is very pleased to announce the launch of the Protect Our Privacy coalition. We are also very proud to say that BCLA is a member – we are the first library association in Canada to participate in this effort.
In partnership with OpenMedia and dozens of other organizations around the country, the coalition centers on the following statement:
More than ever, Canadians need strong, genuinely transparent, and properly enforced safeguards to secure privacy rights. We call on Government to put in place effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities.
Learn more at https://openmedia.ca/ourprivacy
OpenCanada.org has done a bang-up post about NSA-style surveillance in Canada by CSEC entitled Canadian Surveillance 101. Here’s their preamble:
The information leaked by Edward Snowden about the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)’s data collection programs is driving a nation-wide debate in America over the future of privacy and national security. Americans, however, are not the only ones who should be considering the consequences the NSA’s activities. Other countries, including Canada, operate similar surveillance programs and participate in national security data sharing partnerships that crisscross the globe. Given this reality, and the fact that much of Canadians’ online data flows though servers located in the U.S. where it is not subject to any Fourth Amendment protection, we think the tenor of the privacy-security debate within Canada is too quiet. Expanding the debate will require engaging more Canadians with what we know and don’t know about surveillance in Canada. To this end, here is a modest exploration of what we’ve learned since the Snowden story broke.
As it stands right now, there are three biggish stories going on in the information policy world right now. As is usual with the IPC, access to information is our unifying thread.
First the World Intellectual Property Organization’s treaty that wants to ensure print-disabled citizens can’t have access to materials for them. That’s going on right now. In Canada library organizations are urging Canada’s negotiating team to argue for certain positions:
CULC’s full letter is available here. One of the issues with these treaties and negotiations has to do with our old friend Digital Rights Management (or TPM in Canada) and how the language of these agreements (and Canadian laws) are set up to benefit well-resourced lobbying groups even while there’s some reasonable lip-service paid. So this is an issue.
There’s also rumbling about Library and Archives Canada putting up paywalls on digitized materials. This one doesn’t have anything official out there yet, so we’ll just link to some preparatory ire.
And then thirdly there’s the big American news about the NSA keeping databases of phone calls and the program PRISM that gives the NSA access to internet companies’ information and just today Edward Snowden came forward as the leaker of that NSA information.
There’s a lot out there on these things to read. David Simon (of The Wire fame) wrote about how this PRISM thing isn’t a scandal because this is how the law works. Warrants are still necessary, and do you really want to take these tools out of law enforcement’s hands?
Frankly, I’m a bit amazed that the NSA and FBI have their shit together enough to be consistently doing what they should be doing with the vast big-data stream of electronic communication. For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.
Others are talking about what shoddy journalism these leaked stories are since all the tech companies are denying that they’re participating. And there’s some indication that all these companies are doing is just making the NSA’s job easier within the bounds of the law.
I have some sympathy with David Simon (and John Scalzi, for that matter) when they say that this whole thing is just how the world works and pretending to be surprised now is bullshit. Money and Power and all that. These are the laws we made to create a legal surveillance state. But that doesn’t make it right. (It’s also impossible to feel any sympathy for (and infuriating to see) a government who is trying to make itself out as the gut-wrenched victim though.)
There’ll be more coming. But one of the things to be aware of here is that even though it’s possible the only person who did anything illegal in regards to this whole NSA program is Edward Snowden for leaking it (and it is very interesting that Hong Kong is where he’s hoping to avoid being extradited; the Chinese probably have more clout on that than they were portrayed as in The Dark Knight) that’s a huge problem. We wouldn’t be able to talk about what these surveillance laws hath wrought if someone hadn’t snuck them out. This just highlights the importance of challenging and changing laws to fit the needs of citizens instead of law-enforcement and spy agencies.
Of course, it is possible to talk about these policies even without a scandal of illegality. Michael Geist has a great post (filled with links and analysis) talking about how the issues raised by PRISM apply in Canada:
Does this mean Canadian authorities are engaged in similar forms of surveillance? That phone companies such as Bell and Telus are subject to warrants similar to those faced by Verizon? That Internet companies co-operate with Canadian authorities? That Canadian and U.S. authorities share information obtained through programs such as the Verizon meta-data program or PRISM? That Canadians are targeted by the U.S. programs?
The law would suggest that all of these things are entirely possible. Given the integrated communications networks and the increased information sharing, it seems very likely. Yet since virtually everything remain shrouded in secrecy, Canadians don’t know for sure.
That “shrouded in secrecy” is the problem in all three of these issues we’re talking about today. As information professionals we need to push for more transparency in our laws. We also need to be working with organizations pushing for more privacy for individuals and more openness for governments (and other powerful organizations). This is one of those times we need to be supporting OpenMedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Last word for today comes from Edward Snowden:
The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”
What do you think we should do?
Since Daniel Caron needs to be replaced as the head of Library and Archives Canada (the position is currently being filled by Hervé Déry on an interim basis), information professionals with an interest have been putting out some ideas of what we would like to see. There was a Heritage Roundtable on LAC at parliament on May 17 (organized by NDP Heritage Committee members) where, among other things, Myron Groover said:
We need someone who will not shy away from the difficult task of paring down a bloated and self-serving management culture which has treated LAC as a personal fiefdom. And we need someone with a strong personal understanding of information technology as it relates to libraries and archives – this point cannot be emphasised enough.
Since that roundtable meeting the Joint Statement on Qualities of a Successful Librarian and Archivist of Canada was created and has been endorsed by a number of library organizations across the country (that link was to the Canadian Health Libraries Association’s blog post version, but if you prefer it in PDF format, try the Canadian Library Association’s page). This story has been picked up by Gemma Karstens-Smith in the Ottawa Citizen, and David Akin had a good piece about having a librarian instead of someone with an economics degree at the head of LAC..
Accompanying the statement on that CLA page is an open letter (PDF) to the Clerk of the Privy Council giving a bit more context (though not what the Clerk of the Privy Council’s role in appointing a new head of LAC would be). The Canadian Association of Research Libraries also has an open letter to Stephen Harper on the topic of a new LAC head.
It’s excellent to see information organizations across the country trying to be heard on this issue. Hopefully we’ll have some impact.
The big news today is that Daniel Caron has resigned as the head of Library and Archives Canada. Teresa Smith has a good story in the Ottawa Citizen which includes quotes from IPC’s Myron Groover.
Groover said that since the beginning of Caron’s tenure in 2009, he “wasn’t very interested in working with librarians, archivists or technology specialists, thinking instead that he could just go it alone and figure out this huge modernization push without any sort of grounding in fiscal or professional reality.”
While there’s been a bunch of talk on Twitter about being glad to see the back of the figurehead for gutting LAC and destroying the NADP in the name of mismanaged digitization, it’s also important to realize that for the community of information professionals this doesn’t mean much.
Myron says it better here, but in summary: The shitty policies at LAC are still in place. Their budget has still been slashed. There will be a new head of LAC and it’s important that we make sure that that person is someone who takes the role of a memory institution and its challenges seriously and that requires us to do the work to make our voices heard.
This is not a formal report by any means, but a bit of a recap of some IPC-related activities at this year’s BCLA conference. Feel free to add information in the comments or on Twitter about info-policy related activities you participated in as well.
We start achronologically with the BCLA Annual General Meeting on Saturday morning. The IPC had two resolutions on the table: one condemning the muzzling of government employees meant to provide a “[f]ramework for activism to support employees of Library and Archives Canada, employees of other government libraries, and government scientists” and one commending the life and work of Aaron Swartz. Both resolutions passed but there was a significant moment when our chair was asked what exactly the point of the Aaron Swartz resolution was, what would happen because of it? Our chair responded that this was something to do to show people in the future that yes librarians care about this kind of stuff, we don’t just remain silent, and it was also a decent human thing to do.
— erinzee (@zeeerin) May 11, 2013
Outside the AGM, IPC partnered up with Steve Anderson from OpenMedia.ca to talk about netroots advocacy and the kinds of things librarians can do to get involved. Steve took us through the activities his organization has been involved in, which involved a healthy amount of meme-ification. Canadians do care about a neutral internet even if they don’t think about it, and Myron pushed the attendees to educate ourselves so we can talk about these issues with our members who would be affected by online spying bills, predatory pricing and undemocratic international agreements (read: everyone). And Barbara Jo May made sure we were optimistic in our abilities to make change in our world.
— Maryann Kempthorne (@maryakem) May 11, 2013
On Friday night the Hot Topics panel got heated near the end which was probably to be expected with a librarian, an information ethics specialist plus two panel members were current/former board members of Access Copyright. The discussion began with Rowland Lorimer explaining to the audience that “a book is just a license in physical form.” Kevin Williams from Talonbooks talked about the challenges of copyright and digital sales in a changing marketplace and Tara Robertson talked about the ridiculous workflows imposed on her job of making accessible versions of textbooks for Langara’s students. I feel that the panel didn’t quite get into the back and forth the way I’d hoped. I think Micheal Vonn’s views on privacy and whether it is possible to be an ethical stealer of information would have been worthwhile to learn about. It was interesting to see people with a stake in the Access Copyright regime defend their York lawsuit and deny that the supreme court had actually ruled on fair dealing, but that occupied only the very end of the presentation (before Tara suggested continuing the discussion over beer).
— Franklin Sayre (@fsayre) May 11, 2013
Outside of Info Policy specific events, Phil Hall‘s Friday session entitled “Are We Irrelevant Yet?” had a good test for what makes us relevant. Librarianship is about an X and a Y added together. The X is “information transfer/empowering people to use information” or whatever your preferred definition is (mine is “facilitating knowledge creation”) and Y is “anything else.” I appreciated that as a way of deciding what we should be doing in our libraries and in our librarianly lives, really. It gives us a way to say that yes, advocating for laws that help us empower people is part of being a librarian, saying yes LAC employees speaking at conferences and sharing the knowledge of their specific Y contexts is hugely important (and shouldn’t be smothered by terrible codes of conduct). Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but it was a way for me to look at this information policy stuff we go on about and how to explain its connection to day-to-day work in a library serving the public (which I’m lucky enough to do).
Of course, meeting up with librarian colleagues and talking about the shit (cool, bad or otherwise) going down in the world today was a big part of what these conferences are about. I come out of the conference excited to be doing more work with IPC this year and hope you do too.