Your Privacy – protected by the law and librarians for over a century

Apr 09, 2019 · Lorrie Pellack

Believe it or not, in 1890, the Harvard Law Review reported on the Right to Privacy when “thoughts, emotions, and sensations demanded legal recognition” for the first time in the U.S. They go on to say “the law must afford some remedy for the unauthorized circulation of portraits of private persons; and the evil of the invasion of privacy by the newspapers.” Prior to this time, the law protected only life and property (physical items).

Fast forward a century or so to the Internet age. The intent of early Internet privacy regulations was to remove outdated information; however, it has since been further refined by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other legal precepts. “In 2014, the European Union’s court of justice ruled that ‘irrelevant’ and outdated data should be erased on request. Since then, Google has received requests to remove at least 2.4M links from search results. Search engines can reject applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.” ('Right to be forgotten' claimant wants to rewrite history, says Google. The Guardian, 27 Feb 2018.) Note that only EU citizens can request erasure as it was the result of an EU ruling.

Right to erasure or right to be forgotten are phrases that are used synonymously and have come into greater awareness since the passing of the GDPR in Europe. GDPR article 17 specifically addresses right to erasure.“The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her…” [and this is followed by a list of specific situations to which this applies]. The GDPR was applicable as of May 25, 2018, in all member states. It addresses the export of personal data outside the EU. GDPR applies only to companies operating within the EU so that applies to virtually all social media companies, but not all companies worldwide.

“Informed consent” has new meaning in the GDPR. EU-based companies that utilize the Internet and collect any sort of data about individuals are required to post a notice on their site alerting users – and give individuals the ability to restrict what is being shared. Have you noticed some websites have a notice on them alerting you to privacy rights and asking your consent to use cookies? If you care about your privacy, look closer at the consent notices by clicking on “learn more” or “privacy policy” and consider restricting some of the information that is being shared.

Librarians have long been proponents of patron privacy and intellectual freedom. “Since the American Library Association’s inception in 1876, librarians have defended vigorously the public’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights against government attempts to obtain patrons’ borrowing (and later internet surfing) records without a warrant.” Libraries do not share personal data (such as email addresses, or phone numbers) nor do they share information about books an individual has checked out currently or in the past. They are staunch proponents of open access to all types of materials without fear of being identified or ostracized for doing so, regardless of the subject being researched.

Choose Privacy Every Day is an American Library Association website designed to help users protect their privacy online. It provides guidelines and checklists for libraries on safeguarding patron privacy.

Choose Privacy Week is May 1-7 and there will be a number of publicity events around this time. We encourage you to:

  • Take the opportunity to educate yourself about privacy choices and personal information that is being collected about you.
  • Take steps to safeguard your privacy where it makes sense for you, personally.

Recommended Reading:

Ctrl + Z: The Right to Be Forgotten – written by Meg Leta Jones. New York: New York University Press, 2016. Call number: K3264 C65 J66 2016 (Parks Library, Floor 2)

Ctrl + Z is the keyboard shortcut for “undo.” The author takes this concept and applies it to privacy concerns. “Ctrl + Z breaks down the debate and provides guidance for a way forward. It argues that the existing perspectives are too limited, offering easy forgetting or none at all. By looking at new theories of privacy and organizing the many potential applications of the right, law and technology scholar Meg Leta Jones offers a set of nuanced choices.”

The Future of Reputation Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. Written by Daniel J. Solove. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Available online and in hardcopy. Call number: K3264 C65 S65 2007 (Parks Library, Floor 2)

This book provides a reminder of Internet privacy issues in 2007, most of which still exist today, and Solove was advocating for a review of “longstanding notions of privacy.” This book “brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy. Solove offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations.”

Reality Mining: Using Big Data to Engineer a Better World. Written by Nathan Eagle and Kate Greene. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2014. Available online and in hardcopy. Call number: QA76.9 D343 E24 2014 (Parks Library, Tier 1)

This book explores the positive potential of big data. “Big Data is made up of lots of little data: numbers entered into cell phones, addresses entered into GPS devices, visits to websites, online purchases, ATM transactions, and any other activity that leaves a digital trail. Although the abuse of Big Data -- surveillance, spying, hacking -- has made headlines, it shouldn't overshadow the abundant positive applications of Big Data.”

Waiving Our Rights: The Personal Data Collection Complex and Its Threat to Privacy and Civil Liberties. Written by Orlen Lee. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2012. Available online. Although this book pre-dates the GDCR, it provides context for U.S. laws related to privacy rights. Lee notes that it is legal for Americans to waive their rights to privacy, but “questions the validity of any such 'waivers,' and seeks to alert Americans to the need to protect their fundamental rights.”

Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier. Written by Michael Fertik and David Thompson. New York: American Management Association, 2010.

Available online (limited to 5 users via Safari) and in hardcopy. Call number: HD30.2 .F495 2010 (Parks Library, Floor 3)

The bulk of this book is aimed at businesses and individuals in corporate careers. It covers topics such as: recovering from online smears, your reputation roadmap and reputation audits. It also provides basic background information on why people attack each other online and types of Internet attacks.

Prince, Christine. “Do consumers want to control their personal data? Empirical evidence.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol. 110, Feb. 2018, pages 21-32.

“[R]esults demonstrate that those who are more likely to disclose personal data express a greater propensity to use privacy controls. Additionally, our research results show that online users’ propensity to use privacy controls is likely to be driven by the type of personal information they are willing to share. Furthermore, our findings show clearly that compensation is a factor to motivate online users in using privacy controls over data flows.” The end of this article has an excellent list of references for further reading on a broad spectrum of privacy topics including: consumer surveys on privacy, human behavior research, Facebook, mobile apps, loyalty programs, marketing impacts, and user control of privacy.

Check out other materials on these issues in the University Library collections: 

Digital Privacy –

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) –

Internet and Reputation –

Personal Information Management & privacy –

Privacy Rights (published from 2014-2018) –

Right to be Forgotten –

To locate journal articles on the topic:pick your favorite database (such as Google ScholarAcademic Search CompleteABI/Inform Globalor QuickSearch on the library homepage) and try some of these searches:

“digital privacy”

“electronic surveillance” AND consumer* AND privacy

"personally identifiable information" AND "consumer protection"

“personal data” AND (collecting OR collection) 

“situational privacy”