Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yet More Leaks

Sorry to keep harping on this. I just find everything that is currently going on with WikiLeaks to be endlessly fascinating. Apparently, early next year WikiLeaks are planning to publish a number of documents from a "major US bank" that demonstrate a widespread culture of corruption and possibly a pattern of behavior that may be linked to our current economic crisis. Bank of America's stock was down today amid speculation that they are the bank in question. Now this is a leak that I am awaiting with baited breath. Banks and their lending practices are at the heart of our recent recession (Are we out of it? By definition, I suppose the answer is yes.) and more information has recently emerged about banks and their possibly fraudulently fast-tracking foreclosure proceedings, so I think a peek into the internal memos of this "major US bank" will be infinitely valuable to our understanding of our current economic condition.

I'm very excited about these leaks. Despite all of the attention the diplomatic cables are receiving, I'm not quite sure what the goal of releasing them was. The goal is more clear in regards to the dumps of Iraq and Afghanistan war documents, they are meant, as were the Pentagon Papers, to highlight the discrepancies between the official government line and the reality on the ground in two disastrous wars. In regards to whichever bank this happens to be, I can really see the public interest in making these documents available. Wall Street and many other major financial institutions may very well be responsible for pillaging billions of dollars from our economy. These pending leaks could really help to shed a light on what has long been a fundamental injustice in our society, steal a few hundred dollars, end up in an over-crowded California prison, steal a few hundred million, end up in Club-Fed, if it's investigated or prosecuted at all.

Good-googly-moogly I hope the above makes a modicum of sense. Note to self, don't drink Belgian beer and then post on the internet. But, here goes...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Follow up on WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks is expected to release the classified State Department cables today. The US Government has asked them to refrain from releasing the documents stating that the release will put lives at risk and jeopardize intelligence gathering methods among other reasons. However, the government has refused to work with WikiLeaks to suggest redactions of the documents or to determine which documents should be withheld due to security or other concerns.

According to WikiLeaks Twitter feed, their website is currently under a denial of service attack.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wikileaks on NBC Nightly News Tonight:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

More Leaks from WikiLeaks

Sometime this weekend WikiLeaks is set to release another cache of documents. This time the documents are believed to pertain to US diplomatic discussions of foreign leaders and their governments. In an effort at damage control the US has already been in contact with many foreign leaders to brief them on the likely contents of the documents. So far, WikiLeaks has been mum on the official schedule for the release of these documents.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WikiLeaks Discussion

With some puréed potatoes and heavy cream, they make a lovely winter soup.
I want to take a moment to jump in and thank everyone for the rich and truly engaging discussion you are creating around the WikiLeaks issue.  As you can see by the many interesting and nuanced points everyone is making, so much of what we've been thinking and talking about this semester - access to information, government documents, technology, public good, ethics of information, who owns and controls information creation and dissemination, the politics of making information available, legal regimes and info access, and much, much more -is coming into play in this one issue.  I appreciate very much the way you have taken hold of the issue and grappled with it from many angles.  As you are clicking around the web and engaging with news sources in your daily lives, it is likely you will come across more resources on this breaking topic; I encourage you to post and share those when you do.  Thanks for the contributions.

Week 12: WikiLeaks

I remember hearing about WikiLeaks in recent news, but I didn't understand what all the fuss about. It just sounded like a Wikipedia-esque website that has gotten itself into hot water. Then, for this class assignment, I took a peek into their archives and was impressed by the brevity of what I had access to. The About WikiLeaks page is not shy about the information its archives has to offer: everything from abuse reports to government corruption, environmental crimes and prison conditions. In the Peter Ludlow article, the section that really stood out to me was this:

"In a profile of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, the New York Times considered many explanations for what Manning did. He was troubled because "classmates made fun of him for being gay"; he was "ignored" by his superiors; he was "self-medicating."...[When asked about the data] Manning replied in true hacktivist fashion, "Because it's public data...it belongs in the public domain...information should be free...if it's out in the open...it should [do the] public good." (Ludlow 16). So in light of the DADT controversy, we have a private who spills government secrets to WikiLeaks because he is possibly getting harassed for his homosexuality. Yet, he remains calm and gives a statement that would make any librarian's heart go pitter-patter: he feels this information should be free.

I am fascinated by the WikiLeaks story, and I think I will be frequenting its archives more often to see what I can learn. The latest WikiLeaks Twitter tweet is rather ominous: "Pentagon says it expects 'nothing new' in next Wikileaks dump. 'Nothing new' to THEM goes without saying." As a future librarian, something tells me I should keep paying attention to this phenomenon of making government secrets instantly public.


I share in the mixed feelings about WikiLeaks. I always feel a bit guilty when I cannot quickly and efficiently make up my mind on big issues; like I should stop dragging my feet and throw my support (even if it is often a more-or-less silent supporting) behind the side I choose, my side. This time was no exception, at least at first. Then, as I looked at the sheer amount of information present, I realized that I hadn’t fully made up my mind because I, or anyone else, will never be able to fully take it all in. You can get bits and pieces here and there, watch interviews with Assange and get sound bites from the White House, but in the end it is just like everything else, a simplified version of a too-complex reality. It basically comes down to a certain level of blind faith in one side or another (I am, in this case, speaking of the normal everyday person, not the insiders, decision-makers and the zealously committed to the cause). I have never been big on blind faith, but here goes.
I do believe that WikiLeaks is handling some information of value to people that could and would use it for less than altruistic, information-wants-to-be-free purposes. Documents that can lead to the exposure and prosecution, persecution or execution of those in sensitive situations in a war zone are potentially very dangerous… but so are scissors if you don’t use them properly (and I am not about to get rid of my scissors… took me forever to find a left-handed pair big enough to fit my hand comfortably). That, I think, is the trick, knowing what you have and using it properly. By all indication WikiLeaks has done that so far. Despite all of the government’s doom-and-gloom about compromising security and safety in the field the pentagon reported that there were no issues created by any of the leaked information. It would seem that the WikiLeaks people take their redaction seriously. I can’t help but think that with that much info being processed for release by that many people that there is still a good chance of something being released accidentally that might cause issues down the road, maybe a very good chance, but so far it just makes Washington and the military look like they are upset because someone took the power out of their hands. Information is a commodity and they have lost control over a lot of it to a rival – they are afraid of losing face but clearly more concerned over the loss of control. As Assange points out, it is a disturbing and more than a little telling that government has gone after WikiLeaks sources but paid little to no attention to investigating some of the alleged abuses of power and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington is being a petulant child that is still angry about the other kid that got to go first on the slide so they won’t play at all. The pentagon stated that it expected that none of the leaks from the Iraq War Logs would be knew information trying to downplay the whole thing. WikiLeaks points out that it goes without saying that the information wouldn’t be new to them on the War Logs page of their website. In the face of the government’s response to this, with the only thing to counterbalance it being the leaks might potentially be dangerous if something isn’t edited properly, I am going to have to side with the WikiLeaks crew and Julian Assange. Side note: Did anyone else feel really bad for Mr. Assange during the Amy Goodman interview? The man looks haggard, and when she asked him at the end what gave him hope he looked on the verge of breaking down for a moment. I guess making an enemy of the governments and intelligence agencies of the world will do that to you.
I think if there is something that WikiLeaks could be faulted for (and I would not be the one to bring it up to them, given what they have accomplished/risked so far) it is the inaccessibility of this newly accessible information. Like most of you, I found the documents I looked through a confusing maze that had no real relevance for me. This is not even mentioning the massive amount of info. It is great that it is out there, but one has to question the effectiveness of it. All the hactivists and journalists and conspiracy theorists of the world could work on it for years and there could still be valuable things missed. It is almost misdirection through information overload. Again, not that I would bring it up. It is still impressive that it is out there to begin with and that so many people are laboring to do what they think is right by distributing this information.

relativism of secrecy (or something)

Does the length of the Afghan war affect how we view the appropriateness of these leaks? What I mean is that I think the public is more willing to give leaders the benefit of the doubt regarding the necessity of classifying information during times of true national emergency. The first month or two of the Afghan campaign, for instance, when the US was making a push to track down Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, etc., is an example of when a level of secrecy is acceptable and warranted. If wikileaks had chosen that moment to publish sensitive information that could have derailed the chance to grab Bin Laden, I have a hard time believing even Mill would have approved. Clearly, there are matters of national security that must be kept confidential, and our democratic system allows us to put in place people we believe we can trust to act appropriately given access to that information. I'm not certain how to establish a strict timeframe after which the government's classification of information becomes less essential, or if it ever does. But I think the government's ability to make a compelling case to keep information secret wanes over time. Since the public has now largely turned against the war, and most Americans want US forces out of Afghanistan, there has been much less public outcry against wikileaks than there might have been under a different political situation. I know that as information professionals we want to have hard and fast rules about this sort of thing. The truth of the matter is that the state of public opinion at any given moment has as much to do with what an entity such as wikileaks can get away with as any rules or guidelines about freedom of information.

Where do we fit in here? Since the government seems to lack an official entity to advocate for the declassification of information, it is up to us to fill that role. Barring truly compelling situations of national emergency, we should always support the freedom of information, regardless of public opinion. There will be times when that stance can get us into hot water, of course, but since the government will always try to keep information secret, there needs to be a dedicated corps willing to fight on behalf of the public's right to information. Wikileaks helps provide us with the tools to make the fight a bit more even. Hopefully, out of that struggle, somewhere in the middle, there will be a point where the appropriate degree of secrecy vs. access is reached.

Monday, November 22, 2010

module xii: wikileaks

As I searched through the WikiLeaks site, I was both amazed and overwhelmed by the information made available. It is organized, searchable and cross-referenced. I was expected a big blob of text 100 million pages long. I did have a hard time making any real sense of it, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I plan to go back and delve further. The maps helped make a connection to the text I was reading. It’s amazing to be able to see exactly where each report is taking place. Somehow, the maps made it all the more real for me.

In truth, I am very torn about wikileaks.org. On one hand I do applaud Assange’s work in making available this information. The current conflict in the Middle East has divided this country, especially politically. Furthermore, many have questioned former president Bush’s motivations, tactics and leadership from day one. Some consider him a war criminal. I have no doubt that many government activities would shock American citizens if we knew about them. (Think Watergate, Guantanamo Bay.) From this perspective, WikiLeaks brings about the opportunity to read and analyze government and military information, and gives the media a chance to tell real stories, and not regurgitate the official statements from our government.

On the other hand, to what degree should this type of information be made available? Will its ultimate use serve the goals of a free democracy, or highlight our secrets to those who would do us harm? Like most of my classmates have already said, John Mill would be cheering Assange from the highest rooftop. The inclusion of all of this formerly hidden information would, in his view, only further discussion from all sides and enhance the search for truth. I agree, but should truth override the safety of other human beings? In Engleberg’s ProPublica article he writes that through the 75,000 documents posted on WikiLeaks, it is “possible to identify Afghans who have cooperated with Western forces.” How ironic if the country they helped only served to facilitate their demise in the end by making their actions know to anyone. (Certainly, WikiLeaks can be accessed from any computer in the world.)

Should there - can there? - be a line drawn in which “secret” documents remain secret? Through our readings we know that the government secret stamp was used not only to protect information to keep us safe to protect those who made bad mistakes and tried to cover them up. But what if documents on WikiLeaks, or any other such site, truly compromise our national security and our personal safety?

After three paragraphs, I am still torn. I believe our government has shrouded many of its activities in secrecy, and I believe that we should have the right to be able to access that information and question the motives and decisions of our leaders. Whether it be Assange or any other political hacker, there will always be a select group of people fighting very hard for, as Ludlow wrote in The Nation about Levy and The Mentor’s hacker principles in the 1980s: “information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies-it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public.” Online, the general public is anyone with a computer and Internet access. It can be a journalist, a library student, a teacher, or a member of an enemy military. Is it even possible for a site such as WikiLeaks to promote free access for all without putting anyone at risk?

Stats - Late November

Here's a screenshot grab of our audience stats.  I note that my views from Sweden have rolled off.  Enjoy!

Site Audience Stats - All-Time, up to November 22, 2010


I am slightly torn about wikileaks. On the one hand, I strongly believe that information should be free and available to the public. However, a part of me believes we should not reveal classified information if it risks causing harm to informants and/or supporters. I am not sure how, or even if we should, weigh the benefit of free access to information against the possible harm done to others; I think ultimately, the public should know what the government is doing, especially militarily, but I do not think information that could identify and compromise informants or supporters should be revealed to the public until the situation has become such that revealing any identities of those involved is no longer a danger.

I was also a little surprised at the usability of the wikileaks website. I don't know why, but I was also envisioning long written out reports rather than short little snippets. The subject terms were in plain, understandable language, but there were both terms in all caps and no caps and some terms repeated. Additionally, I got sort of lost in all the abbreviations. The addition of the map feature was definitely cool and really made the events told in the logs more tangible. I think it is hard to really digest and comprehend what is going on in the middle east because it is so removed from our lives; it is physically distant and although we talk about events in the middle east we are not first hand seeing the action. Therefore, I think the maps help create a stronger connection between what is happening in the middle east and our lives here.

As others said, I think Mills would support the sharing of information since he argues for listening to both sides. I think the release of information and documents, like on wikileaks, can lead to further discussions about topics from multiple views and allows people to make more informed decisions about what they believe, develop well supported arguments for their beliefs, and have a better understanding of the opposing view.

And now a brief aside, relating back to copyright. Last week in my copyright class, my professor mentioned a statement from the UK that the UK copyright law needed to be reformed to include provisions similar to the US's fair use doctrine in order to attract technology companies to the UK. I think that is an interesting proposition, but, as my professor mentioned, hopefully the UK will be able to find a way around the problems with the fair use doctrine in the US; for example, avoiding a doctrine that involves so much judicial discretion in balancing the four factors that no one can guess whether fair use will be found.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wikileaks and Mills

So, I got confused and posted this on Wikileaks last week...Here it is again.

First, let me say that I found this week’s topic of WikilLeaks to be among the most interesting discussed within this class. I did not know of its existence prior to this week. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.I have to be honest that I did not know what to expect when I searched WikiLeak’s archive, specifically, “Diary Dig”. What I suppose I would find would be complete sections of information – documents which consisted of 20-pages-or-more of juicy information noting edits, deletions, and the “top secret” red stamp of approval. Basically, something that stood out as information which should not be known.This is not what I found in “Diary Dig”.

What I DID discover were thousands of short documents which contained the essential elements of information - # of casualties, units involved, target specification, and so forth. Alone, one document with a few numbers and abbreviations does not provide any insight to the happenings of war; but a coalition consisting of tens of thousands of documents paints a full picture – a story of attrition that any war tells.What would Mills say on the ethics of WikiLeaks?Mill’s writings argued, in so many words, that an ignorant argument breeds ignorant thought. Freedom of Information, therefore, is a fight against ignorance. Is not information classified as “top secret” the manifestation of ignorance promoted by government action? Thus, I believe that if Mill’s were alive today, he would be sitting at his own lap top reviewing potential articles to be posted on Diary Dig. In short, Mills would be continuing his fight against ignorance in this new medium.

An aside..

Several days ago, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. The warrant stems from allegations that Assange raped one woman and sexually molested another while in Sweden this past summer. The charges were dropped then the case was reopened and now an arrest warrant has been issued. Assange maintains that the charges are baseless and that he has sought to cooperate with the investigation, but until this point had received no official notification from Swedish authorities that they wished to question him. Assange has alluded to the fact that he believes that these charges may be part of a smear campaign to discredit him following the publication of the Afghan War logs. You can read more about it here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I hadn't followed the WikiLeaks story much as it was going on, so this was a good opportunity for me to catch up. Ultimately, I have conflicting feelings on the release of these documents. I'm given to skepticism of our militaristic endeavors, and as such, I don't put much stock into our government's official explanation of their motivations, description of conditions on the ground or their metrics for judging success or failure. I also believe that for much of the last decade the American news media has been asleep at the wheel when it has come to providing critical and insightful coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've discussed some of the reasons for the lack of in depth news coverage in the media (i.e. focus on ratings, declines in revenue, cuts in staff, especially expensive foreign correspondents, etc.) Unfortunately, the American media has often shown itself to be overly deferential to our government's explanations of things, especially when it comes to matters of war and national security (WMD's anyone?). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been rife with stories, such as, prisoner abuse or torture; the abuses of private contractors; under reporting of civilian deaths; the scope of the war in Afghanistan and how it has bled over (unofficially) into Pakistan, that exemplify the tension between our right to know what our government is doing in our names vs. the government's claim of the need to protect this information in the name of safety and security. Justice Louis Brandeis has a well known maxim, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Our current military entanglements in the Middle East are in dire need of some sunlight. In this respect, WikiLeaks has been able to play a role that our traditional news media has been reluctant to play, and I am thankful for that.

On the other hand, I do have concerns about the consequences of leaking secret documents and what this may mean for the safety of the informants that are providing or have provided our military with intelligence. In his interview with Amy Goodman, Assange pointed out that WikiLeaks has held back 15,000 pages of documents with this sort of concern in mind. However, in the ProPublica article "How WikiLeaks Could Change the Way Reporters Deal with Secrets" it is noted that the New York Times has identified dozens of cases where the identity of an informant has been put in jeopardy in the 75,000 pages of documents that have been released. These people, as a result, are in grave danger, if they have not come to harm already.

With that said, it doesn't help our government's case that they have often abused their ability to cite national security concerns in order to protect information as secret or classified. All to frequently, these national security concerns have been an attempt to dissuade the news media from reporting stories that have little to do with national security, but may be damaging to our national reputation, having uncovered uncomfortable facts about our military involvements or possible unlawful conduct. The governmental response is often to blame the leaker or the reporter, insinuating that there may be grave consequences to the disclosure of secret information (think Abu Ghraib), but the ultimate responsibility does not lie with the individuals who brought abuses to light, but with those who allowed the abuses to happen in the first place.

As others have remarked, trying to glean much from the Afghan War logs is difficult. They are often cryptic and lacking context. It was hard for me to make much of the few documents I viewed. This accentuates a point that is often missed as we have discussions regarding information and access to it, while we all regard access to information as a good thing, essential even, information still requires an interpreter. Raw information does us little good if we or some other trustworthy source are lacking in the ability to determine the raw information's "aboutness."

Friday, November 19, 2010

(late) module xi social justice, privacy and the connecticut four

Sorry for the late posting. I've been really ill.

Module xi

Britz’s article has a legitimate issue in identifying low ethical standards in the global information community and how, in the author’s view, we should apply social justice these wrongs in the international information society. It brought to my attention the many ways that the flow of information is impeded, especially to those in under developing countries. On page 1178, Britz gives examples of violations of participate (social) justice:

§ Restriction of the freedom of expression.

§ Violation of a person’s right to privacy.

§ Unfair intellectual property regimes.

§ Creation of information monopolies.

§ Economic policies that do not allow affordable access to essential information.

Despite the article’s thorough research, I couldn’t help myself from thinking that this is great in theory, but I am apprehensive about its application in the real world. Especially, if we are talking about Third World countries, who have always been at the receiving end of tyrannical politicians and regimes, as well as their access to education whether it be proper primary schools, the opportunity for university, or learning better ways of water irrigation, agriculture, etc. Access to information is just more of the same for populations that have always gotten the short end of the stick. It doesn’t mean that I think we should not discuss this issue, or that it isn’t important. It is. I just don’t feel that many of those who have the power to do something put this issue at the top of their list.

One sentence on page 1173 did stick out for me: “Essential information is that information that people need to survive and develop.” In some ways, that statement can be applied as a moral guideline for many of the examples of violation of justice Britz describes. If we are committed to making essential information available to everyone across the globe, they will, hopefully, be empowered. But it might be awhile before this begins to gain any real ground. For those to explore the potential of essential information, they must first have the ability to know about the information, comprehend that information, and have the technical tools, skills and infrastructure to receive and process that information.

As for the Bowers article, it is amazing to realize that there is no law in the U.S. Constitution protecting our privacy, and that no law exists to protect the records of library patrons in this country. HEPA protects medical patients, and the government protects your video rentals, but no one protects libraries other than the committed librarians and library staff that uphold the highest standards of privacy and protection.

I’ve read about the Connecticut Four before and was truly blown away, both by the government’s actions and by the willingness of the librarians to stand up to the Patriot Act privacy, regardless of the consequences. They sued the government, and they won. I can only hope that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, that I will have the courage to act as they did, and the support to back me up.

There is a great chapter on the Connecticut Four in a really great book called, This book is overdue: How librarians and cybrarians can save us all, by Marilyn Johnson. I hope, as describes in this book, that wherever I am working, my library will be strong enough to proudly display the sign “The government has not been here today” each time federal agents come into the library.

Libraries need a policy that outlines the steps to take if the government demands patron information. Additionally, librarians need to know what they can expect in terms of support. Basically, will a library cave to a NSL or will it fight it? Will they pay for your lawyer, or demand you acquiesce so the situation comes and goes without a peep?

Not get too much off the subject, but privacy is a novel term in some ways. In LIS 644, we covered how Google and Facebook, among many others are tied into our preferences, our purchases, our daily lives. Of course, the government invading our privacy is much more serious, but millions of us post online in blogs, social networking sites, web sites, perhaps not realizing that information can be linked to us decades later. In a general way, we actually give up our privacy to some degree.

I am prepared to fight as a librarian to keep the records and information tied to my patrons through the library safe and private, for no other eyes than their own. However, I do believe that the security of our great nation and the threats against it are serious issues with dire consequences. I also believe that going through library records to look for threats against our country will not turn up much, if any, tangible proof against an alleged terrorist. Other evidence such as affiliations with known dissidents, uncovering actual bomb-making devices and paraphernalia in a place of residence, or interactions and conversations about plans for a criminal act certainly lend more weight than a library book on explosives in the courtroom.

Wikileaks: Info Supreme

Leakphoto © 2010 Thomas Angermann | more info (via: Wylio)
One of the first things I noticed when I came to the wikileaks site was the lack of controlled vocabulary. It's nice to see a break down into categories, but to my eyes "FRIENDLY FIRE" is likely the same as "Friendly Fire." There could be a difference between capitalized and not capitalized, and I could see an argument for limiting the amount of keywords to preserve the raw data aspect of it. But if the mission is to make this information available to the general population, then making the UI and search options better seem a good place to start. Mr. Assange did mention in his interview on democracy now that they were going to beef up the search options, so I suppose they're looking into it. This was just one aspect of it's inaccessibility that I found. Not that people can't get at it, but it's hard to understand what's going on.

Like Mel, I am a bit overwhelmed and confused as to what I'm actually looking at on the site. The check box for expanding acronyms is huge. A really good feature. Still though, it's hard to draw conclusions about anything on there without some serious research. For this reason I think the idea of forming a news "coalition" was probably a good move on Assange's part. The three newspapers are in more a position to review and extract important parts to the records. That said, there is always the danger of losing the forest for the trees and I think Assange made a good point in his interview that when people ask him what the most shocking thing is he talked about the more long term patterns rather than a single incident. I imagine most people want to find their My Lai Massacre for these army operation instead of seeing many smaller infractions that add up to bad moves on the part of the military.

The most interesting thing I learned from Assange's interview was not actually about wikileaks at all, but instead when he was talking about revealing his sources he said how it was illegal to do so in Sweden (one of those Scandinavian countries anyway), making me again wish I could get back to my Norwegian roots. In general, I feel a bit like the whole wikileaks issue in the same way one of our classmates (sorry I forgot who) felt about challenging books. While people revealing secret information and government trying to squash those people are both a bit problematic, the struggle between the two sides is very democratic just as the act of challenging a book. I definitely think that some information is important to keep secret, but it's likely that a lot of what is classified doesn't really need to be so, and it's investigative journalists job to find said information. Hurray for equilibrium through conflict.

Tank Riot

The most recent episode of Tank Riot is about Wikileaks and Daniel Ellsberg (of the Pentagon Papers). Check it out. There's some cursing and admittance of alcoholic imbibing. They're also huge geeks. The actual Ellsberg and Wikileaks stuff doesn't start till around 20 minutes in.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Translator, please!

I didn’t find anything on Wikileaks, because I really didn’t understand what I was looking at. I don’t have a military background nor do I have the patience to hunt through cryptic documentation. That being said, as a librarian, I agree with the following code that hackers adhere to, which is presented in The Nation article by Peter Ludlow: Information should be free. “It can’t be characterized in terms of left versus right so much as individual versus institution. In particular, Assange holds that truth, creativity, etc. are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, or what he calls "patronage networks," and that much of illegitimate power is perpetuated by the hoarding of information.” Information moves societies and strengthens them. As librarians, we wouldn't hoard information for those that 'deserve' it or know best. Everyone has the right to access everything we have in our institutions.

Then this sentence rattled my personal, liberal cage: “Suspicions have been deepened whenever the government declassified large quantities of documents and it became clear that the "secret" stamp was frequently wielded to conceal mistakes and misconduct, not information sensitive to national security” (Stephen Engelberg). This is exactly what bothers me about government secrecy and what I should have felt while reading the Washington Post’s investigation. People have the right to the truth and access to it. 

It’s one thing to withhold information, it’s another to lie about what’s really going on. This is when I began to feel strongly that these documents should be shared -- and that I appreciate the service Wikileaks provides with their online dropbox. As Assange says, we need soldiers and reporters to look through these documents and sort out the details, because a regular citizen like me can’t make sense of most of it. 

PS I did some searching and found another article by The Nation that highlighted some things they found on WikiLeaks that surprised me:  http://www.thenation.com/article/156388/what-we-learned-wikileaks
[American forces were thus routinely handing over Iraqi suspects to Iraqi forces who routinely tortured them, and then nothing further was done.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bowers & Britz

I enjoyed reading the Bowers article, if only for the historical perspective it provided. By and large, however, the piece served as a chilling reminder of just how over broad the provisions of the USA PATRIOT ACT are. As I write this, I’m sitting in a public library. Who knows – I may be sharing the creation of this blog post with security operatives who were tipped off by my use of “over broad” in the same sentence as the USA PATRIOT ACT. If I should suddenly stop posting to the blog, please contact my wife and tell her that “the crow flies east in the winter.” She’ll know what to do.

Seriously though, some of the cloak and dagger stuff in that article would be comical if it were fiction. What possible reason could an agency like the IRS have for wanting to know who checked out books on explosives? Wouldn’t the circulation history of a biography on Osama Bin Laden implicate dozens of high school students writing reports as potential national security risks? To my layman’s understanding, the USA PATRIOT ACT essentially means that “national security” can be used as the justification for all manner of fundamentally unconstitutional searches and seizures that won’t ever be explained or justified due to the “highly sensitive” nature of the investigations, which can’t be talked about or reported on due to the Section 215 gag order. Thanks, guys. I feel safer already.

With regard to the Britz piece, I share in the sentiments of others here who have observed his firm grasp of the obvious. Sadly, my eyes glossed over about halfway through the article, so I may have missed what I’m sure were some finely articulated points on social justice with regard to the marginalized, information-poor populations of the world. I’m fairly certain, too, that these marginalized, information-poor populations appreciate ivory tower intellectuals like Britz taking to the ramparts on their behalf. I probably shouldn’t be so dismissive and reductive, but this piece just rubbed me the wrong way.

Girl Talk Coming to Madison

Girl Talk: One Geek, one laptop, a crush of screaming girls and the future face of music?photo © 2006 Tom Purves | more info (via: Wylio)
Looks like everyone's favorite mash up artist is coming to Madison, March 7 at the Orpheum. His new album is also freely available on the internets. I think it came out quite recently, so his site is being hammered pretty hard.

Bowers and Library History

I really enjoyed reading the Bowers article – especially how he put privacy of information into a historical perspective. I never knew about Regan and the pressure he put on libraries to give up information in an attempt to prove themselves as “anti-communistic”. It is extremely frightening…but interesting all the same.

I disagree with the Patriot Act and what it potentially means for libraries. But the thing that really bugs me about it is that the Act promotes an “us vs. them” mindset/hysteria. In a world which libraries are fighting so hard to protect patron rights and information (for very good reasons) this law makes us out to be the bad guys. How can an establishment whose foundation is partially the result of Thomas Jefferson and later Andrew Carnegie – two American Icons –be considered anything BUT supportive of American rights and freedoms? Among these include the freedom to private information.

Privacy issues

While reading Britz’s article, I was reminded of a child complaining that their friend has more than they do. My personal opinion is that Britz sounded like an immature whiny brat. Yes, people without education are illiterate and don’t have the same opportunities as those who are, but libraries are free and even if every resource in the world isn’t available there, there are other resources available to them. They just choose not to take advantage of them. I’m talking about in America. I’m not sure how it is in other countries (as I’ve never traveled overseas).

The video reminded me of a situation that occurred at my last job. I had been approached by a police officer who showed me a picture and asked if I had ever seen that person inside the library. I said no (because I hadn’t) and then discussed it with my supervisor. She told me that I am not allowed to say whether or not I have seen someone in the library unless they issue a warrant for that information. From then on, all of those questions are to be referred to a supervisor and not handled at the desk. Kudos to the Connecticut librarians though! (I still don’t see how they were a threat to the Bush Administration though)

Bowers article was very interesting as I didn’t realize what laws were in place for the FBI and other such agencies. As far as I know, our computer system doesn’t keep records of what people have checked out. Unless that is something that the high tech computer people can get to! I’m kinda on the wall with this one as I don’t want my privacy taken away from, but then if someone is planning a terrorist attack, then I’d want them caught before they go through with it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week 11: Ethics in Practice

Watching the David Goodman video this week re-lit my inner spark for why I want to join the library profession. I am in awe that a group of librarians could be handed an FBI court order to hand over checkout information, refuse, be declared security risks and not allowed into their own trial, and still win the case. I wish the speaker and the articles we read for today had gone more into depth about how the librarians fought the case, but it was still encouraging to learn about. Thinking about how would I have reacted to FBI agents standing on my doorway, waving a gag order in my face for confidential information, is tough to think about. I would have been completely intimidated.

But these librarians weren't, and they make me proud to be in a profession that believes that what a person reads should be their business only...well, until the renewal of the Patriot Act swept that away. The Bowers article, "Privacy and Library Records", clearly stated that "Since a library served with a 215 order is under gag restrictions...  the patron will not have the opportunity to challenge such order. While the library may be able to challenge the Section 215 order, the patron will not be notified and, consequently, will not be able to challenge it and protect their individual rights." (Bowers Privacy). How terrifying to know that your research on Islam, child predators, or heavy weapons could make you a security threat. And even if you are a wannabe terrorist, the government shouldn't sit and point fingers about what you're reading. When the Columbine and other school shootings happened, I remember fingers being pointed at the music they listened to or the video games they played being blamed for their actions. This was in 1999, so the Patriot Act wasn't around yet. I wonder if their library records were pulled and examined for "evil" books.

When I worked at UW-Eau Claire's campus library, our system was set up so that once we checked in a book, the book was only linked to the last person who checked it out, and that was it. There was no kept reading list or full record of everything the patron had previously checked out. At the public library, there was an online feature where it easily keep track of everything you checked out, which I found more worrisome. Sometimes at the campus library, patrons would complain that they wanted an item they had previously checked out and couldn't remember the name of. But once we explained a bit about why we didn't keep track of their reading history, it made more sense to them.

Module 11 - Privacy Matters

I really liked this statement from the Bowers article, “One cannot exercise the right to read if the possible consequences include damage to one’s reputation, ostracism from the community or workplace, or criminal penalties” (377). It really summarizes the thoughts and ideas for the week’s readings and video. If someone is afraid of being criticized, ostracized or otherwise ridiculed, judged or considered a criminal, it really restricts their privacy and their freedom to do, read, or view as they please. Interestingly, as stated in the Bowers article, the word “privacy” itself is never mentioned in the Constitution (377). Certainly though, it must be one of the “inalienable rights” granted to each US citizen?

Another line from the Bowers article that struck me (but for different reasons) was the one about “zones of privacy” that “create areas or matters that should be beyond the reach of government and left to the autonomy of the individual.” (Bowers 378) This made me think of the very recent news story I heard about San Francisco, Happy Meals and government control. An ordinance was passed there requiring that a “healthier” option to be chosen in place of fries for the toy to be included in the Happy Meal. Apparently the city board passed the ordinance because it feels that this is a way to control childhood obesity. I see it as us falling one step closer to a communistic society. When does the government learn to back off and let individuals make their own choices concerning their children and their food consumption? But I digress; this is supposed to be a discussion about privacy, which, I suppose, leads me to the Patriot Act.

The YouTube video featuring the story about the librarians in Connecticut that fought the Patriot Act while under gag order was actually really interesting and enlightening. It was helpful to see and listen to an actual instance of the Patriot Act in action and the relative helplessness and feeling of isolation that the librarian (and then his trusted fellow board members) must have initially been feeling. This area of confidentiality and privacy requests, is, in theory, rather black and white, but is, in execution, rather grey and fuzzy. It’s hard to imagine being that librarian served with the request for private information and then trying to make sense of it. Wouldn’t it be scary to be that librarian served with such a request and not be able to talk to anyone about it (not even being certain whether you can seek legal counsel) and then be threatened with jail time if you didn’t comply with the request?? Yikes! Certainly you don’t want to be thought of as a threat to national security (as the speaker stated the librarians were in the video), but also you would want to divulge information about someone that might be an actual threat. But, of course, we as librarians know and understand that upholding the privacy of our patrons comes first.


If I was a superhero, my superhuman powers would be taking standardized tests and valuing my privacy. Privacy is power. It’s a power so great that being engulfed with controversy is practically a prerequisite. I think of privacy as the power to control information about oneself. This, of course, is a little too idealistic…

The notion of privacy is extremely fluid – the varying levels of significance we ascribe to it, as well as how we apply it to specific actions and settings brings to mind the cross-discipline conflict of theory v. practice. There is, for good reason, much discussion on invasion of privacy, and being subject to unwanted scrutiny. But the opposite abounds as well – a general lack of concern for ones privacy seems to have skyrocketed along with the advancement and popularity of networking technologies. I started thinking about this when a classmate brought up the idea of Orwell’s 1984. I’m sure I started looking too deep into it, but I think a comparison of 1984 with Huxley’s Brave New World could shed light on how I feel about privacy, the values we place on it, and the overall threat that its up against.

In 1984, the horrifying condition that has come about is due to an externally imposed oppression. The fear lies with this external force (government) that imposes itself upon the people, banning books, invading privacy, etc. I agree that this is horrifying, and that in the theory of privacy this is the worst thing that can happen. But I tend to side with Huxley’s reasoning, which is itself a bit more horrifying in my opinion. Brave New World depicts a society that deprives itself of personal autonomy (the idea of an oppressor, a ‘big brother’ is superfluous). This society doesn’t value privacy, and in the end loves the technologies that undo their capacities to think. Thus, there is no need to ban a book – for there is no audience for one. There is no need for an invasion of privacy because we don’t value it. Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us…Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

I by no means want to minimize what so many librarians stand for (to which I also stand for, and look forward to as a librarian), but for me the real threat to privacy doesn’t come from external forces like the FBI or the PATRIOT Act – it comes from the masses not realizing the power they wield. The library’s stance on privacy will be extremely hard to realize as the definition of privacy itself is transformed (again).

Module 11

Like some others this week, what stood out to me most was the fact that privacy is, in fact, not a right granted in the U.S. constitution but is rather only interpreted as such through case law on certain amendments. That really took me by surprise because in all the discussions on privacy that I've had in school, I guess it has never been explicitly said, "Privacy is not a constitutional right." With that being said, suddenly I feel a much heavier weight of obligation in my future role as a champion of democracy and advocate for patron privacy rights in accessing information.

It just blows my mind that the act of learning and acquiring education is something that is subject to surveillance, and for what? A shadow of a doubt that it is in true scholarly pursuit? I loved Bowers' quote, "If individuals do not feel that they can read information regarding controversial or non-controversial topics, their ability to learn and expand their knowledge is infringed and impeded." So true! And it is exactly to which John Stuart Mill would respond, "I told you so!" Just as he advocated for the free circulation of ideas, points, and counterpoints, so should a free and democratic society fight for their right to learn and access information without fear of judgment or punishment.

Going back to last week with Jacobs and Yeo (2005), they too argued that democracy requires an informed citizenry where citizens must have full, FREE, easy access to information, whether it be about government, Islamic faith practices, and firearms, as well as fashion trends, home design tips, and alternative health remedies. On an individual level, we should be ensuring that our library policies reflect our own passion for protecting patron privacy and - more importantly - that our staffs are informed about what the policy means in an age where government acts override these overarching ethical ideals in librarianship. Given the context of a world motivated by fear, we and our staffs need to be well-versed in the reasons behind our iron-clad grip on patrons' right to privacy and informed about what outside forces we find ourselves up against, whether it be a National Security Letter, a subpoena, or an FBI agent waving a badge and unauthorized requests for information about patrons and circulation.


Where to start? Librarians versus the Patriot Act, not surprisingly, has come up in some of my other LIS classes, and each time I simply don’t know what to make of it. My first reaction is frustration, both for the librarians that were put in that situation and because the climate of fear that exists in this country has created this situation. I wonder about all those involved. Obviously it was terrifying for the librarians, unable to talk about it with anyone, but I wonder about the FBI agents involved and how we will likely never hear their feelings about it and about all the other librarians that I am sure got the NSL and are not allowed to talk about it. In the end, it is just sad that it has come to this; with a constant flow of information on all fronts we are not allowed to speak to one another. It always makes me feel very 1984-y. The government can so effectively enforce secrecy but it can’t or it won’t (at least in all cases) protect privacy. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about it was that the court case lasted as long as it did because they were stalling until after the act was reinstated to avoid bad press.

I was surprised to read in Bowers the fact that privacy is not a constitutional right, even though I probably shouldn’t have been. As someone said, it has been a long time since my high school government class. I was more surprised that there are no federal laws protecting library records. It seems so odd that video rentals would be protected but not library records. Maybe if a prominent political figures library records became public then they would draft a law, in fact, I am cynical enough to believe that, if that were to happen, legislation would be drafted almost immediately. People protect themselves when they sense they are vulnerable, politicians even more so. In the end I think that Bowers reminder that the best way to keep records private is to not have them at all. Keep those that are necessary to run the library; everything else has a very short shelf life.

Changing gears a bit, I enjoyed Britz’s article, although I did find it a bit redundant. I think that is raises a lot of important issues in dealing with the equitable distribution of information across the globe. It was odd to read his third principle of justice though; “…unequal treatment is justifiable in those cases where differentiation between people is based on publicly accepted criteria representing all. Inequality must, however, be based on certain norms and may not be at the expense of the equal value of all people.” All people are of equal value, but not equal in ability or standing. I don’t disagree, but it feels odd in this time when words are twisted and people are often afraid to say anything that might offend to read it written so bluntly in a paper calling for justice. It made me appreciate the article all the more. It made it feel less idealistic and more realistic than a lot of similar things I have read.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The G-Men are Coming!

J. Edgar Hooverphoto © 2008 Cliff | more info (via: Wylio)
I've been doing my best this week to think about these issues from more than one side. It's very easy to think of the government and the FBI and FBI agents as a large dark sinister force out to steal our privacy. But this is an unfair characterisation. Those two FBI agents in Connecticut were likely enforcing a policy that they believe helps to fight terrorism and save lives. Certainly as a general concept this is something we can all get behind, the tools they used to go about it are what is in question. On a personal level, I am uncomfortable with people knowing things about me, but I also love data. Data is super useful, it lets librarians find information resources that can educate and entertainment. Data also lets law enforcement catch bad guys. I think the key here is to find a comfortable amount of data collection, and the conflict resolution of the courts seems like a fine way to do it. So while, at a personal level I imagine it's quite stressful for the librarians involved to have to deal with the threats of jail time and gag orders, on a higher level, finding the balance between privacy and useful data collection is still an important thing. It would be a mistake to think that our government and law enforcement should know nothing about our lives.

Switching gears slightly, I thought the Bowers article was pretty good. Although, it did start off by using a pet peeve of mine. That of any form of the sentence "The Oxford English Dictionary defines X as blah de blah." This sounds like something I would have written in 9th grade (and probably did many times). That annoyance aside, I thought she made some good points. I think the main crux of the article is the libraries are treated unequally in terms of data protection. I found this surprising. I fail to see a difference in protecting someone's video rentals but not in someone's video check-outs. I also enjoyed the point that not having data at all is one of the best ways to prevent it from being taken by the government. As Bowers points out this was stated back in 1988, so is a good policy regardless of the current political climate or the PATRIOT Act.

Blood boiling

Every time I hear/read an account of the FBI's actions with the Connecticut librarians, I get so upset. It's not so much the Patriot Act itself (although that over-reaching legislation is certainly infuriating), nor the FBI's desire to access the library's records, since the Patriot Act gave the FBI that right. What is so upsetting is the bullying manner the agents/agency used to get those records. George Christian was left unsure if he was even allowed to seek legal counsel! Then, the librarians were barred from appearing at their own court case? This whole situation makes the Iranian prosecution of the American hikers look like an exercise in the methods of a fair trial.

I have gone over in my head many times what I would do in that situation. The problem is, it's difficult to make an honest assessment without the actual fear presented by government threats. Unfortunately, I worry my noblest ideals wouldn't survive long in the face of prison time. I do know that whatever I'm told by the agents, my first call is to a lawyer. There's no way I'm going this alone. Also, I will say (and repeat as often as necessary) to the agents that I'm not authorized to give them any of this information. That may or may not be strictly true, but if I keep repeating it, at ever higher volumes, as stridently as possible, maybe I'll be able to catch them off guard. In fact, here's a strategy that's worth a shot: act completely crazy, screaming nonsensically about squirrels, and ripping up and eating the national security letter right in front of the agents. Maybe they'll decide the whole venture is more trouble than it's worth.

Okay, while I would like to give that a try, I do have a couple more practical suggestions. First of all (and I know this is becoming a bit of a cliche at this point in the semester), every library must have a strong, well-publicized policy to handle these types of situations. If the agents show up, refer them to the policy, which should specify that all such information requests/demands go through the proper channels. There should be a group of people, such as a board of directors, who make these decisions. No librarian, no matter what his or her position of authority within the chain of command, should be forced to face down the US government alone. There should be a sense of team here: if they want to take us on, they're going to take us all on. This is the sort of thing that should be discussed beforehand, as a hypothetical (but very possible) scenario. How will we deal with this? Can I count on you to back me? etc.

Secondly, I thought Bowers proposed some very sensible, proactive steps a library can take to head off these issues from the beginning. Quoting the New York Library Association, Bowers states that libraries should only collect and save the information absolutely necessary for the running of the library (p. 382). The FBI can't demand information that no longer exists because of official library policy not to store it. For instance, the library has the need to know who has a book checked out, but is it necessary to keep a record of everyone who has checked out that book? Once it's returned, and been checked for damage, simply erase that information. The library could still store the information that that book had been checked out, but not by whom. I suppose some users would prefer to have a record of what materials they've used in the last year, so there could be an opt-in policy in place for them. As for computer searches, etc, I think there is more harm than good that can come from tracking and storing this information. Do you really want to take the chance of exposing your patrons to government eyes?

Finally, I think this is so smart and also so funny:


See more at: http://www.librarian.net/technicality.html

Overall, proactive steps need to be taken BEFORE the FBI shows up. Staff needs to be made aware of their rights and responsibilities in advance, to know especially the people to contact immediately when the FBI shows up. Libraries should also operate under the assumption that patron information will eventually be requested by the government, and should therefore only keep that information absolutely essential for the operation of the library.

privacy and justice

I found Bowers article interesting. I think a lot of library users do not think about the privacy of libraries records and probably assume library records are private just like other forms of records, like medical, financial, etc; at least when I talk to people outside the library community, they have no idea that there are no national laws protecting the privacy of their library records. As for the constitutional protection of privacy, I was not surprised that the constitution does not explicitly protect privacy. When I took constitutional law, I learned there are a lot of things I thought were/should be in the constitution but were actually just judicial interpretations of the constitution. As I thought about it, it sort of makes sense that privacy was not explicitly addressed. Today, everything we do creates records and technology allows vast quantities of records to be stored and shared; however, at the time the constitution was written, people were not creating the same record trails: no records of credit card purchases, medical records were probably less extensive, and there were few records of what people were reading. I wonder what others in the class think about whether privacy should be explicitly protected in the constitution, i.e. should a constitutional amendment be added to protect privacy? That is of course ignoring the reality of how difficult it is to actually amend the constitution.

The Britz article made me think about the inequalities of information throughout the world. I didn't necessarily agree with everything she said, but I do agree that there are problems, for example illiteracy, censorship, threat to privacy, unfair IP laws, etc. On pg. 1174, Britz states that ideally the principles of justice will be "embedded and expressed in a constitution, laws, rules, and a social structure that recognizes shared moral values and norms." When I read that statement, I was reminded of a discussion in my international law class a few years: can there be binding international law. In her statement, Britz seems to be assuming that if there were rules, laws, etc codifying the principles of justice, the rules, laws, etc would be binding; however, I wonder who she thinks has the authority to create, enforce, and interpret those rules and laws. She seems to emphasize that all stakeholders should be involved and everyone should have a voice, so I wonder how her ideas would work in a practical situation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ethics, Policy, and Practice

As I was reading the Bowers article, I was struck by the statement that "the US constitution does not explicitly state or grant to individuals the right of privacy." (377) Perhaps its been a bit too long since high school US government class, but privacy seems to be a right that we expect in many parts of our lives (medical records, financial records, etc). I know that this is the result of many individual laws and such, but it just seems a bit odd to me that such a pervasive expectation wouldn't be in the Constitution somewhere (I know it's implied in our right against unlawful search and seizure, but it still isn't explicit there).

On this same note, it is also interesting to me that, "there is still no federal legislation that provides protection for library records." (Bowers, 378) With the big bully of the Patriot Act looming over librarian's and library users heads, it seems quite logical that there would be something nationwide that says library records cannot be inspected just because the FBI has a hunch that something is going on (like in the case in Connecticut featured on the YouTube video). As I was poking around some local libraries privacy statements, it would appear that there is state legislation in Illinois that prevents this situation from happening. And perhaps this is the case in the majority of states. But why not make life simpler and pass a federal law?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Diary Dig and Mills

First, let me say that I found this week’s topic of WikilLeaks to be among the most interesting discussed within this class. I did not know of its existence prior to this week. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
I have to be honest that I did not know what to expect when I searched WikiLeak’s archive, specifically, “Diary Dig”. What I suppose I would find would be complete sections of information – documents which consisted of 20-pages-or-more of juicy information noting edits, deletions, and the “top secret” red stamp of approval. Basically, something that stood out as information which should not be known.
This is not what I found in “Diary Dig”. What I DID discover were thousands of short documents which contained the essential elements of information - # of casualties, units involved, target specification, and so forth. Alone, one document with a few numbers and abbreviations does not provide any insight to the happenings of war; but a coalition consisting of tens of thousands of documents paints a full picture – a story of attrition that any war tells.
What would Mills say on the ethics of WikiLeaks?
Mill’s writings argued, in so many words, that an ignorant argument breeds ignorant thought. Freedom of Information, therefore, is a fight against ignorance. Is not information classified as “top secret” the manifestation of ignorance promoted by government action? Thus, I believe that if Mill’s were alive today, he would be sitting at his own lap top reviewing potential articles to be posted on Diary Dig. In short, Mills would be continuing his fight against ignorance in this new medium.