In today’s technological world where new information sharing devices and systems are developed on what seems like an hourly basis, the ability to keep ones personal information to oneself is becoming increasingly difficult. For some this is not a problem. For others, such as myself, it is of concern for I have lived long enough to see what serious harm can be done when personal information is used for misguided, immoral, unethical, or illegal purposes.

What is privacy? and Why do many individuals place such a high value on maintaining personal privacy? Roger Cook an Australian who has studied in this area for many years states that,” Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining a ‘personal space’, free from interference by other people and organizations”. This is as good a definition as any.

As each of us is a member of society our desire for ‘personal space’ must be balanced by the society’s need for personal information in order complete the transactions needed for the society to exist. Taxes must be paid, living places acquired and maintained, health and welfare information gathered, essential functions of commerce provided for and so on. Each of these requires that we as individuals give personal information of one type or another to other organizations in order to function as members of our society.

Libraries are in the forefront of any discussion of privacy as they have historically protected the right of individual users to maintain privacy in what they read, view, or see in the Library setting. Library records in most states are protected by confidentiality statutes that require that a court order be obtained before the library divulges information concerning the individual’s use of the library.

Recently in my role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the American Library Association, I have been involved in an effort to begin a National Conversation on Privacy. As an initial step, small discussion groups have been held in all areas of our country to gather information from citizens on what privacy concerns they have. Information from these meetings is being evaluated and work is progressing towards the development of a format for this National Conversation.

Some of the questions asked in these small discussion groups are ones that all of us need to think about as we look at how our society influences our ability to maintain our ‘personal space’ in our daily interactions. Think about the following:

1. What is important to you personally about privacy?

2. What information about yourself are you comfortable in giving out?

3. How do you feel about privacy? What concerns do you have about privacy?

4. What types of information could hurt a person if made public?

5. What information about others do you feel you need to know?

6. What trade-offs or compromises would you be willing to make with your privacy?

Think about these questions and how you would address each one. Discuss this with your family and friends. I will keep readers informed as to the progress of the National Conversation on Privacy.

So long for now!

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