week 9: influencing local policy

Wow, I was blown away by Brian’s talk today. I knew his work was amazing but I didn’t even know the half of it. I’m going to be rewatching the video when it converts and I post it on Vimeo, because there’s so much in there that I want to take better notes on.

Here are some discussion questions:

  • What lessons can libraries/librarians learn from Oakland Privacy’s work?
  • What are the first steps you can take in your community to create better community control of technology?
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I think this session deserves an extra watch, there was just so much information that it was really hard to soak it all in. It was absolutely amazing the work being done.

I think we can learn a lot from them, most important being their organizational/collaborative structure. The idea of coalitions is vital to their work and should be to ours as well.

I think one of the first things we can do is actually learn who are legislators are, I know I recently moved to a new town so I know very little about the local politics. Also reaching out to Brian and getting those resources, he’s obviously very into collaboration and seems keen to help out whomever he can.

That being said, I need to watch that video again, it was so information-rich.


Would it be possible to get a copy of his presentation? It was really blurry on my screen, and in the end he had a section on a letter that I couldn’t see. It would be easier for me to follow along and scale to our community if I could see it in print.

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I just asked him to share his slides. I need Zoom to manually convert the video file for me since my screen froze in the beginning, so I hope to have that ready soon.

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Those slides had so much text on each one! It was hard to soak it all in during the presentation, but it would be a great resource to refer to later. I’m also excited that they are working on putting together a clearinghouse of policy and report documents that other activists and jurisdictions can access.

The problem I’m having when thinking about taking action locally is that the library itself is on the brink of adopting surveillance technology with no community input. My library district recently received a grant to install CCTV cameras in each branch. I didn’t hear about it until the press release came out. I’ve expressed concerns to my library director, but I’m doubtful that I’ll be able to stop the project, given that they have the money in hand. The best I can really hope for is that it will come with some strong policy language to limit sharing and storing the footage.


One major lesson that librarians can learn from Oakland’s Privacy work is to organize and build frameworks that can help to support a balanced approach to new technology purchases or subscription. At a college, this might not be in the form of ordinances, but a set of rules that are overseen by a balanced committee or group of people, so that these decisions are not made from the top down without any accountability, or without consideration to cost or impact on the community. There are a few points from Brian’s talk that really resonated with me. He mentioned the prohibition of non-disclosure agreements because “you can’t regulate what you don’t know about.” He also mentioned always being sure to do research to know the positive and negative impacts of a technology before making any decisions, because you’ll always hear the positive spin, but not the down sides. So true. He also mentioned that one would have to explain the purpose of a technology before it is even considered. I can see how these frameworks can be applied at the library level (e.g. new database subscriptions) or at the college level (e.g. replacement of surveillance cameras). This was super helpful especially when thinking about how my current institution sometimes makes decisions on new technologies or services, and how to strategize a balanced and thoughtful process with some/more/total oversight.


I feel like this is what I can do at my institution. Setting up a committee at the college level (or at the very least departmental level) that considers the privacy implications of new equipment/eresources is a great idea.

The presentation also had me doing research in what’s happening in NY and NYC, and it seems that a few privacy related laws are being considered and had passed in the last year or so.

The City of New York is stepping up to protect your digital privacy

New York’s Privacy Bill Is Even Bolder Than California’s


I thought this week’s lecture was particularly amazing. I needed to hear some positive news, and I think the Oakland Privacy framework can be useful for us in all kinds of work we’re doing.

Brian shared his slides: https://github.com/alisonLFP/libraryfreedominstitute/blob/master/LFI2/resources/Bay%20Area%20Civil%20Liberties%20Wins%20-%20LFI%207-19-19.pptx

As well as the coalition letter that didn’t properly show up on the lecture: https://github.com/alisonLFP/libraryfreedominstitute/blob/master/LFI2/resources/Oakland%20Sanctuary%20Contracting%20Ordinance%20coalition%20support%20letter%205-20-19.pdf

I loved the theme of creating FRICTION and slowdowns as a surveillance fighting strategy. I also thought the framework they use can help us so much. Here’s that framework again:

  • Working towards ordinances (laws) rather than unenforceable policies, and making the basis of the ordinances those required documents - an impact report and a use policy. Brian’s slides listed what the impact report and use policy should include. And violations of the use policy should have real consequences.
  • Coalition support letters: I can attest to how valuable these are in my political work. As librarians, getting multiple statewide library orgs to sign onto something together, or as part of a broader coalition, can be really powerful.
  • Public records requests: this is great for not just learning what tech is in use locally, but also in doing research to corroborate the impact reports. If you don’t want to do your own public records requests, you can look through the MuckRock archives or have them submit something on your behalf.
  • Agenda watching: just knowing what is happening at your local city council budget hearings or whatever! Here is something that I think is a great educational opportunity for patrons. What if you had a public program about local government oversight and just showed people things like where to find the agenda (or how to get on the agenda) and things like that?
  • Citizens oversight commission: definitely more involved, but in places where there’s a lot of motivation, you can replicate what Oakland Privacy has done with their diverse commission of subject experts.
  • Don’t be afraid to include the opposition in the conversation, whether it’s law enforcement or legislators or vendors.

Lastly, here’s the CCOPS (Community Control Over Police Surveillance) model that Brian referred to a few times: https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/community-control-over-police-surveillance


Locally we could look into our home library and how they collect and maintain data, including library survellience video, vendor agreements, etc. I currently have no idea where our survellience video data goes or for how long. I am also looking into our vendor agreements to see what they say about patron data and privacy. As a cohort maybe we could put together general language that supports privacy and checks survelleince and then each of us could push it out to our state library associations. We could also ask library consortiums and library vendors to sign on in support as well.


I think the video data is in accordance with what vendor you use. Ours is for 3 weeks. Now what the vendor keeps I do not know I just know we only have access for about 3 weeks.

Brian’s work is really amazing, and while it is evident that he and the people he works with in Oakland are doing a lot of work, he also made it seem really possible that this is something that can be replicated in other communities.

I am really working through what steps that I can take in my own city to get a conversation started about privacy. Two city council members know that I am a part of LFI and were supportive, and I think I may have some opportunities to build support when I start hosting classes and trainings for the public.

Like everyone here, I was really blown away (and a little overwhelmed) by Brian’s work and the work of Oakland Privacy. It is really amazing how much they have been able to accomplish. In some ways, Brian’s lecture felt like a citizenship lesson. He showed that there are ways to be seriously involved in one’s community without running for public office. The shear number of hours that he has donated to his community must be incredible. (And I wanted to ask how time-consuming this work is but didn’t.)

Brian mentioned that in order to be on his coalition’s staff, volunteers had to meet certain requirements for background/knowledge base and I wish he could have spent some time talking about what those requirements are. In many ways, I still feel like such a novice in this privacy space, but felt really excited about the possibility of doing this kind of work for my community. I live in DC - the possibility of tech misuse between the DC government, federal government, Dept. of Homeland Security, multiple police forces, the military, DOT, etc is just incredible. I would love to know what a qualified candidate looks like for these privacy coalitions.

Like others have stated, I do think Oakland Privacy’s work can be way scaled down for the library or university in which I work. Committees can be built for the purpose of reviewing new tech or databases or current subscriptions to evaluate for potential harm. Of course, this would require choosing the right people and doing a lot of staff education. Because I am on a university campus, the possibility of getting students involved in something like this is very exciting - my favorite committees are usually those that have student representation on them.

This review was really helpful, Alison!! Thank you for typing it all up.

I’m going to ask him about this but I think that being a librarian (especially one who completed an institute focused on privacy) should be qualifying criteria for a commission like this.

This! I need to rewatch the video with the slides but my main takeaway was that it’s feasible to make progress even when things seem so overwhelmingly negative.

Brian mentioned Richmond, where I live, in his talk and I’m interested to go back and read the agendas to get a handle on what is happening locally. I’m definitely adding agenda watching to my regular routine as well - there’s so much that goes unnoticed and/or unreported.


Sometimes I look at this work that people do and just think cot-damn! SO many ducks to be put into rows. It’s people that do this, not person, as we see here. Congrats to Oakland for the win streak on this.
I read that Brian was victimized by police because of bad license plate reader data. Wondering if there was any effort to connect instances of police violence or unlawful detainment to bad data and algorithms. We often think of the threats these technologies represent to our rights, but we also have to pay heed to the sequence of events these devices set in motion that are potentially life-threatening as well.


Oh I don’t doubt that that’s a big part of their messaging. I can ask Brian for examples if you want.

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This was a big takeaway for me. We, as citizens and library advocates, need to be vigilant about keeping tabs on what is happening in local government. This can be so difficult – it’s time consuming, unglamorous work. I think the average citizen can easily feel overwhelmed and disengaged from the process when things do not seem accessible. I love the idea of this as a program. My library serves a lot of immigrants and new citizens. I think this would be a really interesting next step after people become citizens – how to truly engage in local government. Really, it’s where an individual can have the most impact.


Yes I love this idea Kim! Something like a civic engagement class or series of classes. You could cover so much about local government and also some of the other things that Brian touched on…like getting to know your local media and other influential people in your city or town. You could share schedules for city council and school board meetings and the like. The advanced level of the class could cover things like public records requests. I think this would be so transformative for so many communities.


One thing that our library did (in conjunction with a number of other local organizations) that worked well was to have a series of training classes with a project based approach. We had three groups choose from a different project and then those groups met with different community groups based on the topic. For example, one group was to advocate for the institution of a 30 day notice for terminating a lease (We have a p intense housing crisis situation). They then met with the local low-income housing advocacy group who spent some time training the individuals. Then they attended county commissioner meetings to raise agenda’s. And eventually were successful in their lobbying. I think that the success of this was due to the guided nature of it – often people want to do something but really don’t know how and by having the nonprofit tell them what to do, it really opened doors for them.

I’m thinking that maybe we work with the county commissioners to create either a flyer or a video about the ways to communicate with them. I.e. how do you get something on the agenda, how do you make a public comment, how do you raise concerns with them, how do you make those concerns impactful to them (like do you just get a lot of people to do the same thing?). Because honestly that’s what keeps me from going, like who knows how to interact with this Roberts Rules of Order nonsense?

One thing that we tried that definitely does not work, is simply making the agenda more available. I made this big chalkboard display that says when the next meetings are and what the agenda is and I update it for every meeting, and I am pretty sure that not one person has ever read it. :slight_smile: