To all computer users concerned to protect Internet privacy and limit unwarranted government 'snooping'.
If you are a devotee of computers you may wish to help promote this site around the world so that the arguments can be aired more widely. Other campaign sites devoted to privacy are already available (for example, http://www.privacyinternational.org) but this site may be unique in that a part of it is centred upon computer systems in libraries - both for book issue systems and public access computers (People's Network in the UK). The site http://www.gilc.org (Global Internet Liberty Campaign) is one of the starting points for any study of campaigns around the world devoted to freedom of speech, privacy, secure e-mailing and much more. Summaries of a few of more than 70 available sites are given at Internet_Privacy_organisations.htm .
There are some serious issues relating to the degree of 'snooping' that should be permitted on public access computers in libraries and elsewhere, especially when the people in charge appear to be wholly unconcerned even to protect personal data held on their own systems. There are obvious problems when those empowered to 'snoop' including on encrypted bank files and similar material may live locally, even in the same village, and when there are no effective third party controls.
The degree of potential 'snooping' that has been built into People's Network computers in Devon is illustrated by the fact that any of the computers can be 'taken over' by staff at Command HQ (Devon County Council). Any program running can then be manipulated by remote control. This has proved welcome to a few library users when they encounter (say) an obscure problem with word processing that the library staff cannot sort out. A quick phone call and the user is told to leave the machine alone. As if by magic, icons and mouse pointers then flash across the screen controlled by an unseen hand miles away. The problem is fixed but how many users stop to think of the implications of a system where this much central control has been incorporated?
There are of course 'policy task groups' and committees in the UK who advise on these issues both for universities and libraries, but I have found wide variations across the UK in how 'snooping' policies are implemented. Anyone interested in 'official' papers can start at http://www.cilip.org for libraries in the UK and http://www.ala.org for the USA, and at http://www.lboro.ac.uk/computing/info/ for UK universities. Schools have developed their own Rules and Regulations - some are even available on the web, as are those of a few libraries. Maybe in about 30 years' time when 500 committees have sat for 100 times each and produced about 50 tonnes of paper, there might emerge a simple world-wide standard for the world-wide web? The US government has recently proposed TIAS, a comprehensive data gathering system that would include libraries - this is discussed at total_info_aware_system.htm .
World-wide survey of library computer systems.
The core arguments in respect of library computers were summed up in my letter to the Western Morning News (wmnletter.htm) and in an article published by CILIP (cilip.htm).
It would be helpful if this website could be brought to the attention of libraries world-wide and some further discussion initiated on the acceptable limits to casual and electronic snooping. If sites exist that already address these topics from the perspective of users, please let me know. Also, has screen-privacy for users been properly considered in any parts of the UK (or elsewhere in the world) or are all libraries as bad as those in Devon? See computer_layouts_in_libraries.htm for more details.
UK survey of storage on drive D: or equivalent - to what extent are the potential problems built into People's Network machines in Devon replicated elsewhere?
Read pages intern30.htm and intern31.htm before proceeding.
The justification for so much 'snooping' being built into People's Network computers in Devon (and probably elsewhere) is preventing young people accessing 'unsuitable' material and preventing use of 'chatrooms' by people wishing to entice youngsters. Some libraries allow 'chatroom' sites to be used, some do not. Some even issue their own guidance on 'safe' use of chatrooms.
However, in Devon it was easily possible to download images either from 'junk mail' via email sites or from scanners and store them for weeks on library computers where they could be accessed even using a children's ticket - one that blocks out direct access to the Internet. Is or was this feature built into machines elsewhere? It was certainly never notified to library staff during the initial months of systems operation. Staff were told (and so were all library users) that storage on C: (or D: which is a partition or virtual drive) was not possible, and indeed I complained on more than one occasion about the lack of provision to save jpeg or large gif files other than on a floppy disc (which has insufficient capacity for a large image). I never received a technically competent answer - yet in his letter of 4 November (sweeney4nov.htm) the Assistant County Solicitor of DCC presents what appears to be a remarkable rewriting of history - that such storage had been designed into the system. Why then was no-one ever told about it, and why were problems of scanning images to disk left unresolved, much to the annoyance of users?
The situation in Devon was made especially farcical because children's tickets sometimes allowed access to the Internet and adult tickets blocked access. These and other basic software problems were present for months, librarians complained regularly to DCC Computer Command HQ yet nothing was done. Taken together with the ease with which the whole security system based on library ticket numbers could be defeated (see data_outtake.htm) I do wonder if the overall level of incompetence demonstrated in Devon is or was mirrored elsewhere!
Has anyone else taken an interest in these systems? If so please let me know what you found. mailto:email@example.com (small emails and no attachments please). Study of 'acceptable use policies' from libraries elsewhere shows that many prohibit storage to the computer hard drives but with machines that are not fitted with CDR or front mounted USB ports, users are severely limited in what they can create and take away, especially as many e-mail providers limit the size of attachments. Lack of accessible USB ports probably stems from an inadequate NOF specification for the machines used in the People's Network - but no-one will ever likely admit to it!
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