Big Brother comes to LAPL

The following email I sent August 4, 2016, is self-explanatory:

to rmorales, ecaswell, Carol, Librarians
To: Robert Morales, Senior Management Analyst II


Carol Chao, Sr. Librarian, Robertson Branch
Erika Thibault, Principal Librarian, Western Area
Roy Stone, President, Librarians Guild

Hi Robert,

Pursuant to our phone conversation yesterday afternoon:

1. I am requesting the following:

a. Surveillance cameras which have been installed at Robertson Branch should be rendered inoperable at least until there is a public hearing to notify the public about the locations and capabilities of the cameras and to solicit the public’s views of the surveillance scheme (and suggest changes in its execution).

According to the American Bar Association, this should have been done prior to installation. . . .

“Standard 2-9.3. Video surveillance
. . .

(b) Overt video surveillance for a protracted period . . . is permissible when:

(i) politically accountable law enforcement official or the relevant politically accountable governmental authority concludes that the surveillance

(A) will not view a private activity or condition; and

(B) will be reasonably likely to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective; and

(ii) in cases where deterrence rather than investigation is the primary objective, the public to be affected by the surveillance:

(A) is notified of the intended location and general capability of the camera; and

(B) has the opportunity, both prior to the initiation of the surveillance and periodically during it, to express its views of the surveillance and propose changes in its execution, through a hearing or some other appropriate means.

. . .”

(American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section Standards, Technologically-Assisted Physical Surveillance, Electronic Surveillance: Part B: Standard 2-9.1 (at ).

b. Please provide me with your policy statement regarding the use of surveillance cameras in LAPL branches (as per American Library Association, “Questions and Answers on Privacy and Confidentiality” at ):

“Today’s sophisticated high-resolution surveillance equipment is capable of recording patron reading and viewing habits in ways that are as revealing as the written circulation records libraries routinely protect. When a library considers installing surveillance equipment, the administrative necessity of doing so must be weighed against the fact that most of the activity being recorded is innocent and harmless. Any records kept may be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Since any such personal information is sensitive and has the potential to be used inappropriately in the wrong hands, gathering surveillance data has serious implications for library management and school administrators.

If the library decides surveillance is necessary, it is essential for the library to develop and enforce strong policies protecting patron privacy and confidentiality appropriate to managing the equipment, including routine destruction of the tapes in the briefest amount of time possible, or as soon as permitted by law.

Such policies should state that the cameras are to be used only for the narrow purpose of enhancing the physical security of the library, its property, staff and patrons.

Policies should also include protocols for posting signs or giving notice about the presence of surveillance cameras; storing of videotapes and other digital images in a secure location; and routine destruction of tapes or images in the briefest amount of time possible, or as soon as permitted by law. If the cameras create any records, the library must recognize its responsibility to protect their confidentiality like any other library record. In addition, some state laws indicate that libraries shall not disclose any information that identifies a person as having used a library or a library service, even if that information is not in the form of a “record.” Protecting patron confidentiality is best accomplished by purging the records or images as soon as their purpose is served.”.

“. . . Libraries that use surveillance cameras should have written policies stating that the cameras are not to be used for anything else to avoid “function creep.” If the cameras create any records, the library must recognize its responsibility to protect their confidentiality like any other library record. This is best accomplished by purging the records as soon as their purpose is served.”.

b. The issue of surveillance cameras in LAPL branches be placed on the agenda for discussion at the August 11 Board of Library Commissioners meeting.

2. Who am I?

I am a resident of Los Angeles, a library patron and a former LAPL professional librarian (for more than 30 years). I retired in 2010 from Exposition Park Regional Branch. The last few years I’ve substituted occasionally “as needed” to help branches meet staffing needs in the Hollywood and Western regions.

3. What prompted my requests?

The following email (sent to Western Regional Office) is self-explanatory:

Larry Neuton
Jul 29 (5 days ago)

to rmunoz


Yesterday, while subbing at Robertson Branch, I noticed new surveillance cameras throughout the library.
I am told that all of the LAPL branches are getting them – in order to enhance security.

I have some concerns:

1. In order to deter crime I welcome surveillance cameras. In the 1990’s, when cars at Exposition Park Branch were broken into, I was the first to recommend cameras for our parking lot. And, when we had a rash of bicycle thefts in front of the library, I again recommended them. Strategically placed cameras for specific purposes is what I had in mind.

However, having cameras placed throughout the library is an alarming overkill.

If there is anything sacred in public librarianship it is privacy of our patrons.
Isn’t the public library supposed to be a refuge from “Big Brother is watching you”?
Spying on patrons seems to be completely inconsistent with fundamental principles of the profession.

2. As a workplace issue when subbing at a branch, I don’t want to spend four or five hours “on camera”.

At the reference desk, I’m a librarian, not a performer. I do NOT give my consent to be photographed or surveilled unless there is some specific beneficial purpose for it (e.g., which has my picture on the site as part of the program).

Because of these concerns, please update me about this new situation.


Larry Neuton

4. Chief Issue – Privacy for LAPL patrons

“In May 2012, the American Library Association (ALA) celebrated its third annual “Choose Privacy Week” under the moniker “Freedom from Surveillance.” Through this program and others, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has actively promoted the recognition of privacy in the public library setting. . . . many public libraries around the United States, and the world, have . . . implemented another form of surveillance – video security systems – that potentially pose a threat to the privacy of library patrons and staff in conflict with library commitments to privacy and intellectual freedom.” (Newell paper, below).

The Los Angeles Public Library Mission Statement guarantees “free and easy access” to library resources. It states the following:

“The Los Angeles Public Library provides free and easy access to information, ideas, books and technology that enrich, educate and empower every individual in our city’s diverse communities.” (emphasis added).

A regime of surveillance cameras – Big Brother spying on patrons while they use the library – means that patrons must surrender their privacy at the door in order to access the library’s resources. This is a denial of “free and easy access”. This is no less objectionable than requiring them to surrender their money at the door. Property rights and privacy rights are both guaranteed by the California Constitution, Article I Declaration of Rights, Section 1:

“All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy” (emphasis added).

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against intrusions by surveillance cameras where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The public library is obviously a public place, so you might think there is no expectation of privacy in an LAPL branch.

However, the public library has a unique role as champion of intellectual freedom.

“. . . Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. . . . (ALA, Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights at )

The public library has been singled out as a special exception when it comes to privacy. For example, the California Government Code dealing with “Inspection of Public Records” (Sec. 6267) exempts from disclosure “all registration and circulation records of library supported by public funds”. Cal Gov Code § 6254 exempts the following from disclosure requirements: “Library circulation records kept for the purpose of identifying the borrower of items available in libraries, . . .”.

Considering surveillance as a type of search, it is one thing to be searched electronically if there is probable cause. But the indiscriminate surveillance of the general public seems to violate the constitutional right to privacy as interpreted by the Fourth Amendment.

In any case, the denial of public access to the library without their making a “privacy payment” (i.e., submitting to being under constant surveillance) is a denial of the public’s right to receive information in a publicly funded library. Court opinions establishing a right to receive information in a public library include the following: Board of Education. v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982); Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for the Town of Morristown, 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir. 1992); and Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 117 S.Ct. 2329, 138 L.Ed.2d 874 (1997).

5. Unintended consequences of surveillance cameras in the library

Newell and Randall, “Video Surveillance in Public Libraries: A Case of Unintended Consequences?” (2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences) is a paper examining video security systems in two public libraries. It describes many of the issues and examines why one of these libraries has reversed course and removed a previously installed surveillance system.

Among the reasons for removing the surveillance system are the following:

“Video surveillance appears to have little effect on crime and. . . . Additionally, employer initiated surveillance raises serious issues about employee privacy in the workplace. Choices made in regards to video surveillance in libraries will result in very practical implications for library administrators when they are confronted with police requests for patron information (or even requests by local citizens under state freedom of information laws). Video surveillance may also potentially lead to discriminatory “social sorting”.”.

““The cameras have also created an adversarial relationship between [the library], local law enforcement agencies and crime victims. In our attempts to cooperate with police while maintaining patron privacy, staff have experienced intense pressure to release footage on demand, without requiring a warrant or court order… Our efforts to protect patron confidentiality [are] viewed as uncooperative and hindering criminal investigation.”.

“…maintaining cameras as a safety and security measure is not only ineffective, it may not be in keeping with the intent of the public records exemption for libraries. Library administration has resisted the disclosure of videotape footage that depicts library patrons (whether in or outside the building) in accordance with our interpretation of the public records exemption for libraries… Protecting the confidentiality of library records, in this case videotape footage that may include images of patrons using the library in one form or another, . . .”.

“Ultimately, because of the resistance from local police over the library’s policy of requiring court orders before turning over security footage, the administration made the decision to get rid of the cameras in early 2011. The library director publicly stated that the library was getting “out of the camera business” because of the conflict with law enforcement and the library’s commitment to intellectual freedom.” .

“These interactions with law enforcement led to the second stated reason for the removal of the cameras, an investigation into their usefulness to deter crime. After conducting research into the effectiveness of surveillance cameras, the administration ultimately concluded that the evidence, from outside research and the library’s own experience, did not support cameras as an effective preventive measure against crime or property loss.”.

“In addition to research on the effect of cameras on crime rates, literature about the psychological effects of employer mandated surveillance on employees has also received some deserved attention . . . “employees have strong feelings of disliking monitoring, as they perceive privacy violations and unfairness of the practice.” . . . studies,. . . find evidence that employer monitoring systems “produce fear, resentment, and elevate stress levels” of employees resulting in lower employee satisfaction a more competitive workplace environment.”.

The civil liberties issues raised by installation of surveillance cameras in public libraries are issues of great importance to society in general. Instead of rushing to systematically install them in all branches, LAPL should study the matter carefully.

“Video surveillance is an ever-increasing issue in modern society. More and more security cameras and other surveillance technologies such as drones, biometric recording, facial recognition and even genetic profiling tools are becoming prevalent in our everyday lives. As a result there is a very real struggle emerging between maintaining personal privacy and ensuring a certain level of security, as well as upholding the law. Current large-scale security systems with networked video cameras, expansive control rooms, roaming security guards, and the incorporation of other cutting edge technologies, can be compared to the Panopticon designs of the English social theorist Jeremy Bentham . . . . The possibility that the modern public library, the with profession’s long held commitment to privacy and intellectual freedom, could be compared to Bentham’s panoptic prison in which the few – as largely unobservable observers – watch the many in an act of power and domination, is striking. If video surveillance has the potential to change power relationships between the state and its citizens . . . and negatively affect civil liberties, its implementation and management in the public library setting should be studied rigorously.”. (Randall, D. P., & Newell, B. C. (2014). The Panoptic Librarian: The Role of Video Surveillance in the Modern Public Library. In iConference 2014 Proceedings (p. 508–521) at ).


Larry Neuton

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