Library Privacy

(Editor’s Note: This article accompanies a lecture K. Matthew Dames gave Oct. 9, 2007, to the Digital Libraries class (IST 677) at Syracuse University’s iSchool. The Fall 2007 class is taught by University Librarian Suzanne Thorin and Angela Ramnarine-Rieks, web administrator at Syracuse University Library.)

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Defining Privacy

Oxford English Dictionary defines privacy as “The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.”

Life With Alacrity. Four Kinds of Privacy. April 22, 2004.

Legal Protections

U.S. Constitution

Fourth Amendment (1791)
First Amendment (1791)
Ninth Amendment (1791)
Fourteenth Amendment (1868)

Note: Amendments 1 through 10 are known as the Bill of Rights.


Cal. Const. Art. 1, sec. 1

Legislative Initiatives

Electronic Communications Privacy Act (1986):Under ECPA, all forms of electronic transmissions — including video, text, audio, and data — are protected communications that require probable cause for law enforcement to access.
Employee Polygraph Protection Act (1988): Prohibits most private employers, with the exception of security service firms and pharmaceutical manufacturers, from using lie detector tests either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment. Does not apply to federal, local, and state governments.
Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (1988): Passed in response to controversy surrounding the release of Judge Robert Bork’s video rental records during his failed Supreme Court nomination. Prohibits videotape service providers from disclosing customer rental records without the informed, written consent of the consumer. Also requires video service providers to destroy personally identifiable customer information within a year of the date it is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (1991): Protects residential telephone subscribers’ privacy rights, which led to the FCC issuing an order that require any telemarketer to maintain a “Do Not Call” list.
Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (1994): Restricts the public disclosure of personal information contained in state department of motor vehicle (“DMV”) records.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (1996): HIPAA is Congress’ first guarantee of a federal policy to govern the privacy of electronic health information.

Library Privacy

American Library Association

Code of Ethics (last updated 1995)
Library Bill of Rights (last updated 1996)

State Laws

New York (NY Civ. Prac. L. & R. sec. 4509)
ALA state law index

(Note: According to the ALA, all states except Kentucky and Hawaii have laws that protect the confidentiality of library patron records. Protection of library record confidentiality in those two states is preserved through opinions from those states’ respective Attorneys General.)


ACLU Summary of Section 215 (business records)
“PATRIOT Act” archive search on Copycense

Library Challenges

• Buckland, M. K. (2003). Five grand challenges for library research. Library Trends, 51(4), 675-686. (.html, .pdf)


1. Maness, J. M. (2006). Library 2.0 theory: Web 2.0 and its implications for libraries. Retrieved Oct. 5, 2007, from Webology Web site,
2. O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved Oct. 5, 2007, from O’Reilly Web site,


• Nicholson, S. R. (2003). The bibliomining process: Data warehousing and data mining for library decision making. Information Technology and Libraries, 22, 4, 146-151. (.html)
Bibliomining: Data Mining for Libraries
Scott Nicholson

Meshing Service & Policy

Discussion & Policy Questions

1. To what extent, if any, do ALA’s privacy policies need updating?
2. To what extent does Library 2.0 override or reshape ALA’s privacy policies?

Written by sesomedia

10/10/2007 at 15:30

Posted in Uncategorized

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