Demand for Apple encryption tool threatens library users’ privacy

For Immediate Release
Fri, 02/26/2016


Communications and Marketing Office

ALA Media Relations


CHICAGO – Libraries have a direct and immediate stake in the outcome of the Apple case, as patrons have 24/7 access to library materials and resources via their smart phones, tablets and mobile devices. Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association (ALA) released the following statement in response to a federal court order that requires Apple to develop a new tool to eliminate specific security protections the company built into its phone software, in order to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation in unlocking encrypted messages.

“The American Library Association (ALA) is saddened and outraged at the act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December," stated Feldman. “This senseless act of violence should not be used to justify compromising the privacy of library users and, indeed, all Americans.

“Along with scores of civil liberties organizations, technology companies, and eminent security researchers worldwide, the ALA shares concerns regarding the intended or unintended creation of a ‘backdoor’ into Apple’s or any other company’s encryption systems. Library patrons have a right to privacy, as many access library catalogs and databases via their mobile devices.  

“The ALA is a staunch advocate for privacy and opposes unfettered government surveillance that threatens the civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution. We believe that privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association.  As such, it is part of the bedrock of American democracy.

“Although the court order requires Apple to unlock and decrypt a single iPhone, providing a backdoor key means that the security and privacy of all Apple iPhones will be broken. Previously confidential information, such as patrons’ ebook downloads, database use and other library records will be open to those within our government who might not follow correct procedures. Our concern is that the privacy of library patrons’ activities will be fair game to all that hold Apple’s new key.

“Some may believe that it is acceptable for a government presumed to have good motives to have a secret backdoor into their personal data, especially when the government is required to go through thoughtful consideration to determine that this evidence is indeed necessary for law enforcement, and cannot be obtained any other way.

“However, this unprecedented request goes far beyond simply asking a company to supply existing records. Rather, via a broad reading of a 1789 law, the All Writs Act, the government is requiring that a company compromise its own commercial product whose key value to the customer was precisely its assurance of privacy.  The constitutional issues are not insignificant, especially given that the government's actions circumvent an ongoing public debate about encryption and scope of the government's authority over the devices library users rely upon to freely access library collections and resources.”

About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.