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July 23, 2009

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Mary, speaking of libraries and reader privacy, here's an interesting aside, in my opinion. Apparently, the new cars.gov web site says at one point that a user's computer, and I suppose a library computer as well if used to access the site, is now fully accessible by both federal and foreign authorities. What do you think about that?

Mary, Google has addressed many of your concerns about privacy. I'd like to think that it was in response to your post, but since it was the same day, it must have been something they had been working on before.

Google's response suggests that it should be possible for patrons to protect their privacy whether they are using an institutional subscription or a public terminal in the library. What is unclear is what, if any, user data Google will collect if users opt to log in to their Google account prior to using Book Search (perhaps to take advantage of special features that must be user-specific).

I believe in freedom of access to information. In fact, I believe it is essential for a functioning democracy. Freedom of access requires privacy. That is, if you think the government is looking over your shoulder at what you read, then the chilling effect kicks in.

What I ask for is that Google not track readers. We can't control what's on the Internet, but we can ask that every book we read online is not logged and tied back to us.

"If a reader borrows a book from the library, we protect her privacy. If she reads the same book on our computer terminals, she needs the same protection."

Mary, some libraries go out of their way to say the Internet is totally out of their hands--people are on their own. Some even put up signs warning of the potential for governmental oversight.

Now libraries are supposed to say that the Internet that is totally out of their hands must be controlled? By a third party, Google, no less? At the request of the ACLU and the EFF? Why not just use more signs?

Please explain how this is not a double standard. Libraries cannot both disclaim control over the Internet while at the same time demand control over the Internet.

"If a reader borrows a book from the library, we protect her privacy. If she reads the same book on our computer terminals, she needs the same protection." For librarians who claim they cannot control the Internet to become librarians who demand "the same protection" from some third party that should control the Internet, I find that quite extraordinary.

One has to wonder who made librarians (and I'm only talking about the limited few making such demands) lords over the Internet.

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