A story today from CNN, Bush signing may mean government can read your mail, notes that “the signing statement attached to postal legislation by President Bush last month may have opened the way for the government to open mail without a warrant.” The full signing statement said:
“The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”
Bob Sullivan, Technology correspondent, MSNB, has written a multipart story on Privacy Lost. During his investigations, he discovered privacy only matters sometimes to Americans. He writes that they feel the same way about privacy as they feel about health:
“When you have it, you don’t notice it. Only when it’s gone do you wish you’d done more to protect it.”
Protecting user privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries. The American Library Association has affirmed a right to privacy since 1939. Existing ALA policies affirm that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry. Rights to privacy and confidentiality also are implicit in the Library Bill of Rights’ guarantee of free access to library resources for all users.
As ALA’s Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights points out:
Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. The courts have established a First Amendment right to receive information in a publicly funded library. Further, the courts have upheld the right to privacy based on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Many states provide guarantees of privacy in their constitutions and statute law. Numerous decisions in case law have defined and extended rights to privacy.
In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf.
Discover ways to protect privacy and confidentiality with these resources:
See also Bruce Schneier’s article The Eternal Value of Privacy, in which Schneier points out:
“Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, ‘If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.’ Watch someone long enough, and you’ll find something to arrest—or just blackmail—with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies—whoever they happen to be at the time.”
Revised from post Privacy Lost and Regained.