LFI.3 Week six discussion

Great conversation with April Glaser! Here are some questions for us to consider:

  • What talking points can we use to defend privacy during the pandemic, especially against surveillance technologies like fever detection and location tracking? How can we connect these issues to public health demands, and broader issues about policing, data profiling, and other privacy-related concerns?

Talking points

  • Appeal to Science: Many of these technologies haven’t been shown to work, especially at scale and as a health tracker. They are expensive, difficult to deploy, and have marginal benefits at best. Further, many of the leading scientific authorities do not recommend the deployment of these devices.
  • Appeal to the future: Once these technologies are seen as a way things work in American society, they will never go away. You can see this in the post-9/11 restructuring of information gathering and security at airports. We can’t trade away the future for something that is expedient in the moment.
  • Appeal to finances: This is the wrong thing to be appropriating resources on right now when we have mass unemployment, a tenuous healthcare system, and a variety of other problems that need to be solved. Let’s put our resources where we know they can do the most good today rather than gambling on things that haven’t proven useful.
  • Appeal to people who are scared: We realize you’re scared and that these things seem like they can help. But I’d much rather see us put our time into activities, investigations, and investments that will actually make us safer instead of just providing a theatrical illusion of safety, and I think that’s what you would want to.
  • Appeal to parents: Location tracking doesn’t mean just tracking you with your phone. It means the government and private companies tracking you, your spouse, and your kids. Everywhere they go, at all times. The only limits they would have would be self-imposed or whatever the government decided to investigate. Is this really something that you want for your family after this crisis is behind us?

I think that the biggest thing to remember across all of our talking about privacy in the current moment is that the LIS field has a dangerous tendency of over-intellectualizing our concerns. In most moments of crisis, we aren’t thinking with our prefrontal cortex; we are basing our beliefs out of the panic-stricken amygdala. Appeals to emotion, to what they and their families are going through right now, I think will be more powerful than broader appeals to more amorphous topics.


Great answers Mack! And I think this point:

…is especially important. We want to connect with people and empathize with them, let them know we have the same concerns and fears, but that surveillance technology is not going to help with the very real threats, and in fact will make other things worse.


Sometimes I think back to just a few weeks ago when I was laughing about the popularity of the celery juice books and the medical medium craze - now look at whats going on - ugh -

But really self help books are a goldmine - where’s the ‘girl, wash your face’ author now? There is so much money to be made in books that tell people how to calm down, work less, eat better, and live off juice. But now it seems that we’re all perpetually living in ambiguity. What’s happening? Where’s the cure? In our 24 news cycle Covid-19 seems like old news - there should be a book by now -

I’m framing my response to this week’s question like this because when I think about ‘framing’ privacy and surveillance issues I think about the audience. People - they’re all just looking for guidance on any number of human issues, some good advice. As a librarian that works with a lot of different groups I’m often framing information as a casual conversation. The whole ‘people are experts at their own lives’ vein of thinking works here, too. I think the public wants to do the right thing and this is why increased surveillance seems, on the surface, as a sure way to go. But people need to be tested - how good is the location tracking if we don’t know who has the virus? (can I slip this into every conversation I’m having now?) (umm, yes)

There’s a larger foundational symptom and that has to be people’s ability to deal with not knowing. We have control over nothing. Fear is what pushes us to adopt surveillance technologies that are always misused by humans with nefarious needs. It’s a good thing that Mr. Rogers had been really enjoying a renewed moment the last bit before the crisis - the whole Mr. Rogers ‘look for the helpers’ meme has really hit home. Does surveillance really help anyone? - I don’t think so - it creates whole new layers of bureaucracy and doesn’t that just make the government bigger, and isn’t that antithetical to a neo-liberal agenda? OOOO that neo-liberal agenda is really making my muscles sore these days - umph…

Anyways, I’ve got celery to press. This is a conversation that has to be had continually - poor people are always targeted - minorities are always targeted, our health care system is corrupt and dysfunctional, how are fever detection and location tracking ever going to help this system? Humans do bad things with control and power this is just part of our nature - how can we design ourselves out of this?

These are my talking points so far -

Oooooh, I feel this deep in my “why am I not over this by now” tendencies. Like I should just be getting on with life! Because that’s what my low attention span has learned.

Right on.

Right, we need to have empathy for this response! I know all of us have helped patrons who are surviving cancer, or whose family members are, and they want the last ditch books on homeopathy or whatever, because they’re just looking for something to fix the problem so they can get on with their lives. So we need to start from this place of understanding.

I think this is a very key talking point – straight to the point, evidence based, easy to understand, and accurate! People can easily imagine a location tracking app that lights up every single phone on the map because of all the people who have been in contact with someone with the virus. Keep emphasizing what public health experts want…mass testing.

Yep! And I think this is elevated because we’re talking about technology. People fear/don’t understand technology, and want to implicitly trust it to do the right thing.

40 years of it!!! It’s too much!!!

It’s a lot of the same talking points repeated, with the names of the tech substituted every few years. How do we design ourselves out of it? I think it’s with stronger communities. What makes us actually safe? Each other. What does a secure community look like? One where people take care of each other. We don’t need a disembodied eye watching us, we need to watch out for each other.


and this

as framing for Mac’s delightful breakdown really nail it for me as a great place to start with people who are looking for solutions from governments.

Where I live a lot of people across the left/right political spectrum are very skeptical of a)technology b)surveillance and c) the government. So an additional goal is to give information and specificity to people’s concerns, and since they are already opposed, give them something to do about it.

  • Offer solid information about the surveillance technologies on the table: Here’s what we’re seeing governments and businesses discussing, here are places where those tactics are being tried.
  • Clarify issues: The technologies are inaccurate, and if they aren’t accurate, then they won’t be effective and can’t be justified. Many people don’t exhibit fever with COVID, and many people often have low fevers for other reasons; contact tracing is really only useful early in an epidemic and when done by trained specialists; facial recognition is proven to be inaccurate, especially for people who aren’t white. Antibody testing is great, but it’s too soon to know how complete or long lasting immunity is.
  • Clarify costs: The economic cost of businesses and governments pouring money into ineffective tools can’t be justified. The false sense of safety provided by these options will lead to dangerous policy decisions and people will die. And
  • Who are the decision-makers: Our governor is part of the coalition of west coast and northeast state governors who are strategizing together. Is your work trying to implement some of these measures? Tell everyone you know, talk to coworkers if that feels safe. You can contact your local paper. Here are organizations that are helping us fight this. Provide contact info.
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This is so important and something we haven’t talked about in as much depth yet, but particularly right now when state and local governments are going to be desperate for funds, we can’t afford to put money into unproven and dangerous technologies!

Acknowledging this is so key. I serve a small community that skews conservative (it’s like 50/30/20 conservative/moderate/liberal), a lot of our patrons watch Fox News regularly, we circ a shocking number of conservative pundit books, etc. but what I am seeing is that the overwhelming majority of people who are not complaining about being asked to stay at home and wear masks–despite the angry propaganda I’m SURE they are getting from the right. They remember 9/11 and they want to come together and do the right thing no matter the cost. I feel like they would jump on some sort of automated digital tracking system without a thought to the consequences down the line… I love Heather’s suggestion of weaving information into casual conversation that pushes back on any misinformation a library user might be carrying around with them. I know my stubborn patrons would likely respond better to that than to an “actually” from me, ha.

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