Liberty, Privacy & Surveillance

Civic Engagement Toolkit

Privacy Toolkit

ALA’s extensive First Amendment, liberty and privacy principles guide the association’s work in the federal legislative and policy arenas as well as at the state and local levels in order to protect personal privacy based upon a long standing commitment to patron privacy. Advancing the library community’s principles to protect patron confidentiality requires major grassroots work from the library community to promote library priorities in these environments. There are several parts of ALA that work on these important issues.

On June 29, 2015, the Intellectual Freedom Committee approved a new document, " Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors ,"  intended to assist vendors and libraries to develop best privacy and data management practices for ebook and digital content vendors.   

Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors

These guidelines attempt to balance the need to protect reader privacy with the needs of libraries to collect user data and provide personalized services, while respecting and protecting the individual's right to make their own informed decisions in regards to how much privacy they are willing to trade for convenience or added benefits.   The IFC Privacy Subcomittee welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement.  Correspondence concerning the guidelines can be sent to Deborah Caldwell Stone ( staff liaison for the Privacy Subcommittee.

Office for Intellectual Freedom

In conjunction with the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC), ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) conducts the associations work on intellectual freedom and privacy issues at the state and local levels, often working also with state library association chapters. OIF also takes the lead on most ALA litigation on these issues.

Office of Government Relations

At the federal level, ALA’s Committee on Legislation (COL) works with the Office of Government Relations (OGR). The federal debates often focus on provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Electronic Computer Privacy Act (ECPA), the Computer Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and other surveillance and data retention proposals.

Federal Legislation



Ellen Nakashima, NSA tries to regain industry’s trust to work cooperatively against cyber-threats, Wash. Post, Oct. 10, 2013,

Kate Tummarello, Cybersecurity hinges on surveillance understanding, NSA director says, The Hill, Oct. 9, 2013,

Brendan Sasso, Rep. Amash: Intelligence committees undermine oversight, The Hill, Oct. 9, 2013,

Brendan Sasso, Sen. Wyden vows to battle ‘skin deep’ NSA reforms, The Hill, Oct. 9, 2013,

Brendan Sasso & Kate Tummarello, Patriot Act author preps Freedom Act to rein in NSA, The Hill, Oct. 9, 2013,

Tom Risen, ‘Patriot Act’ Author Seeks ‘USA Freedom Act’ to Rein In NSA, U.S. News & World Rep., Oct. 10, 2013,

Andrea Peterson, Obama says NSA has plenty of congressional oversight.  But one congressman says it’s a farce., Wash. Post, Oct. 9, 2013,

Alex Hern, Lavabit founder offered to log users’ metadata if FBI paid him $3,500, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2013,

Brady McCombs & Paul Foy, Electrical Issues Stall NSA Data Warehouse Opening, Assoc. Press, Oct. 9, 2013,

Josh Gerstein, Judge won’t delay NSA surveillance lawsuit, Politico, Oct. 9, 2013,