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Reader Privacy Issues in a Digital World

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Keynote speaker John Palfrey

When you curl up with a book - even one from the library, what you read and how you read it is private. Few other people will know your reading habits unless you share them. But when you read Google Books online, or e-books on Kindle or Sony Reader, or when you read other material on the Internet, you do not have the same degree of privacy.

Experts are debating the tension between readers' expectations of privacy and the interest of private entities that data-mine the information readers provide as they read or make purchases online. One model solution is the standard of privacy generally recognized by libraries.

On Jan. 22, 2010, in honor of Data Privacy Day, the University of North Carolina School of Law, together with the University of North Carolina Center for Media Law and Policy, the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library, the University of North Carolina University Libraries, the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, and The Privacy Projects will present a program titled "Reader Privacy: Should Library Standards for Privacy Apply in the Digital World?"

The conference is free and open to the public; advance registration is recommended.

"Library privacy standards traditionally have meant that the library will not share any information about a particular user's reader habits, except when necessary for library management, such as tracking overdue books, or when required by legal process, such as a valid warrant or subpoena," explains Anne Klinefelter, director of the law library and associate professor of law at UNC School of Law. "State laws and librarians' professional ethics require confidentiality of library users' reading habits."

The American Library Association has stated that, "Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought and free association."

Klinefelter notes that information shared by readers online is often collected by third parties who are interested in developing targeted marketing strategies.

"Privacy competes with the costs of innovation and service online," says Klinefelter. "Free access to Internet services must be funded in some way, and advertising and sale of data about individuals' use of the Internet is used much more widely than people realize.

Additionally, she says, "Once a person has shared information with a third party, such as Amazon.com or Google Books, the 4th Amendment offers little privacy protection against government collection of that information. If the information is collected, saved and enhanced with other information, that matrix of information including reading habits is available to the government without a warrant. "

The conference will begin with a keynote address by John Palfrey, vice dean, Library and Information Resources and Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center on the Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Panelists include:

  • Jane Horvath, global privacy counsel, Google Inc.
  • Andrew McDiarmid, policy analyst, Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Lili Levi, professor of law, University of Miami
  • Annie Anton, professor of computer science at North Carolina State University and director of ThePrivacyPlace.org
  • Paula Bruening, executive director of the Center for Information Policy Leadership at Hunton & Williams, LLP
  • Anne Klinefelter

Moderators are Bill Marshall, William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law, and David Hoffman, Director of Security Policy and Global Privacy Officer, Intel Corporation.

The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2010, in room 4085 at UNC School of Law, 160 Ridge Rd., Chapel Hill, NC.

Register online or find out more.

-December 22, 2009

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