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SF Library plans to install privacy-threatening RFID tags into books and materials despite EFF, ACLU-NC, Library Users Assoc. opposition

May 30, 2018

by Library Users Association

At the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Library or at any public library in San Francisco, you and your family will still be able to check out books to take home if RFID technology is adopted, but those books, films and other materials can be tracked.

San Francisco – Despite strong and unequivocal opposition by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, which has been consistent for more than 10 years, San Francisco Public Library plans to install what the two organizations, and others, consider to be privacy-threatening RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology into books and other materials that patrons use and borrow.

In a formal letter sent last year to City Librarian Luis Herrera, who retired in February, the two groups wrote, “Both EFF and ACLU-NC have opposed, and continue to oppose, the use of RFID technology in libraries because of its very significant privacy and free speech concerns.”

They went on to say, “We highlighted the extensive research findings about privacy risks in our previous correspondence with the Library and during our engagement with the RFID advisory committee.” The reference is to the Library’s Library Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, LTPAC, which met multiple times and issued a report more than 10 years ago, both before and shortly after the Supervisors rejected the Library’s requested RFID funding for two years in a row.

ACLU-NC and EFF noted that they were “extremely surprised that the Library is revisiting this issue, particularly in the current political climate.”

In a formal letter sent last year to City Librarian Luis Herrera, who retired in February, the two groups wrote, “Both EFF and ACLU-NC have opposed, and continue to oppose, the use of RFID technology in libraries because of its very significant privacy and free speech concerns.”

“Now is certainly not the time for the Library to be adopting RFID technology – a technology that is built to allow the books in our hands and our bags to be monitored and tracked from a distance without us ever knowing,” the two groups wrote. “Rather,” they continued, “the Library should be taking affirmative steps to further safeguard the privacy and free expression of diverse community members.”

Library Users Association also continues to oppose the technology for privacy reasons, and has additional concerns about high cost, how well the technology works in general, a concerning weakness in the anti-theft function, and potential health risks from radio frequency radiation.

The RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is part of the Library’s proposed budget for the next two fiscal years, and the Budget and Finance Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider the matter again in June, along with all other City departmental budgets. The full Board of Supervisors makes final decisions on budget matters in July.

Library Users Association Executive Director Peter Warfield said, “The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom policy makes it clear that patron assurance of confidentiality in what they are researching and reading at the library is key to intellectual freedom – the freedom to think, to read and to research.”

Library Users Association also continues to oppose the technology for privacy reasons, and has additional concerns about high cost, how well the technology works in general, a concerning weakness in the anti-theft function, and potential health risks from radio frequency radiation.

The Budget and Finance Committee of the Board heard Deputy City Librarian and current Acting City Librarian Michael Lambert make an initial presentation on its budget, including RFID, at the Committee’s May 17 and May 24 hearings. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy expressed strong opposition: “I don’t want my daughter tracked!”

Chair Malia Cohen asked whether the $3.4 million project, with an estimated additional cost of $194,000 per year for 10 years, isn’t more of a “want” than a “need.” Supervisor Sandra Fewer initially agreed with Sheehy’s concerns, but a week later reversed, saying she had met with the Library and was satisfied with what they said about the project.

Mr. Lambert said the RFID technology would provide efficiencies to patrons and staff, and library statistics show estimates that the average time to check books and other items in and out would be cut by five to eight seconds each with RFID compared to the current bar code system. Library Users Association has questioned the methodology used to arrive at the estimated time savings, because library records showed that no materials were checked in or out on an actual RFID machine using actual RFID tags.

Sup. Cohen also expressed an interest in fines and fees. After the meeting, Mr. Warfield noted that fines and fees hurt the poorest patrons the most, and also block borrowing when a patron owes more than $10. “If the RFID budget were eliminated, the money could be used instead to completely replace estimated fines and fees for 10 years, and there would still be money left over to add open hours throughout the system, he said.

Mr. Warfield added, “If you don’t like the feeling you’re being tracked when you’re enjoying something borrowed from the Library, you should contact the Board of Supervisors, and especially the five members of the Budget and Finance Committee: Chair Malia Cohen (District 10), Vice Chair Sandra Fewer (D1), and Supervisors Jeff Sheehy (D8), Catherine Stefani (D2) and Norman Yee (D7).

Deetje Boler, a member of Library Users Association, said the Library should not make this important decision until after a new City Librarian has been selected to fill the currently-vacant position.

Mr. Warfield added, “If you don’t like the feeling you’re being tracked when you’re enjoying something borrowed from the Library, you should contact the Board of Supervisors, and especially the five members of the Budget and Finance Committee.

Late note: On May 31, the Library Commission will discuss, and possibly decide on, open hours for the next five years. If no action is taken at that meeting, it is scheduled to do so June 21.

The proposed changes include actually reducing evening open hours. The “reallocation” plan would reduce 15 evening sessions at 11 branches by one or two hours, making most of them close at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. – except closing earlier, at 7 p.m. instead of 8 or 9, one night a week each at the Bernal Heights and Western Addition branches.

The “expansion” plan would reduce evening hours at six branches 10 nights per week; four branches would close at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. eight times per month, and additionally on two more nights Bernal Heights and Western Addition branches would close at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. or 9 p.m..

Mr. Warfield said that the library’s surveys and meetings never suggested to the public that hours were being considered for cuts. “The library should give plenty of time for public input on any proposed changes to hours,” he said, “rather than rushing through the process with less than one week’s notice.”

The Library Users Association can be reached at P.O. Box 170544, San Francisco, CA 94117-0544, 415-753-2180 or libraryusers2004@yahoo.com.   

4 thoughts on “SF Library plans to install privacy-threatening RFID tags into books and materials despite EFF, ACLU-NC, Library Users Assoc. opposition

  1. Dana Farricker

    There are no privacy concerns regarding RFID. No one has ever had his or her identity stolen with the technology, despite what some are claiming. This is a lot of nonsense.

    Reply
    1. Porfirio Amavisca  

      I agree that there are no privacy issues with RFID. I believe that a library is a sacred place. At any time and at any age, you need to read. You can also say that you need to write at any age. And after you write a paper job, you need to check it. You can check paperwork on the service – PapersOwl UK which writes term papers. In conclusion, I want to say that I do not believe in stealing personal data.

      Reply
  2. Laura

    I concur with Dana. 75% of Bay Area libraries already use it with no privacy issues reported. This article is written by Peter Warfield who apparently greatly enjoys quoting himself.

    Reply

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