Lisa Rein: Our next speak­er is the founder of the Library Freedom Project, which brings togeth­er three of Aaron’s favorite things: pri­va­cy, libraries, and Tor. Without fur­ther ado, Alison Macrina.

Alison Macrina: Hi, guys. Oh my God I’m a lit­tle fraz­zled. I just had a crazy trav­el expe­ri­ence. I got in hor­ri­ble traf­fic because LA is a cesspit. Sorry if any­one’s from LA. But I’m here and I’m so excit­ed to be here and there’s so many peo­ple and this is so won­der­ful and amazing.

My name is Alison and I run an orga­ni­za­tion called Library Freedom Project. The mis­sion of Library Freedom Project is to make real the promise of intel­lec­tu­al free­dom in libraries. The whole Library Freedom Project, every­thing that we do is very deeply inspired by Aaron’s spir­it, his work in resis­tance, his lega­cy. And every day that we go into libraries and teach prac­ti­cal pri­va­cy train­ings, I feel like Aaron is very much present in all that we do. So it means so much to get to talk about the work that I do, fram­ing it in the mem­o­ry of this won­der­ful pow­er­ful per­son who inspires me every day. 

So, Library Freedom Project. Basically what we do is we teach librar­i­ans about three things. We teach them about sur­veil­lance threats. So, what we know about the NSA after Snowden; how that fits into FBI and local police sur­veil­lance; what that means with corporate-level sur­veil­lance and how these things work togeth­er; what the real impact on our local com­mu­ni­ties is; what the mate­r­i­al effect on the peo­ple that we serve in libraries [is].

We teach librar­i­ans about their pri­va­cy rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties. So what to do if they get a National Security Letter; how to read the attached gag order; what to do if you receive one of these; who to call; what this means for your First and Fourth Amendment rights. 

And kind of the biggest thing we do at Library Freedom Project is teach librar­i­ans about using free soft­ware for sur­veil­lance resis­tance to pro­tect pri­va­cy. So we teach them about things like Tor Browser, Signal, GPG, OTR in Jabber, all that won­der­ful fun stuff.

The rea­son we teach this in libraries is because libraries have a real­ly spe­cial role in their com­mu­ni­ties. They are some­times the only free com­put­er assis­tance that you can find in most places. They have free com­put­er class­es at all lev­els. They tend to be iden­ti­fy­ing com­put­er lit­er­a­cy needs at real­ly low lev­els; peo­ple who maybe have nev­er touched a com­put­er before or are very afraid of them, who are con­fused by the kinds of things that are hap­pen­ing to them on the Internet, and sur­veil­lance and pri­va­cy vio­la­tions only exac­er­bate that. And libraries also have the only com­put­er ter­mi­nals that most peo­ple can use in their com­mu­ni­ties. Most libraries, par­tic­u­lar­ly pub­lic libraries, serve peo­ple who have no com­put­er access elsewhere.

They also serve peo­ple who have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship to sur­veil­lance in that they have been under sur­veil­lance for much longer than the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, so peo­ple of col­or, immi­grants, Muslim Americans in par­tic­u­lar, queer peo­ple, peo­ple who have been home­less, peo­ple who have been incar­cer­at­ed. These are peo­ple that we serve in libraries and make up a greater pro­por­tion of our pop­u­la­tion than they do of the gen­er­al pop­u­lace. So it’s espe­cial­ly impor­tant that we get this infor­ma­tion to these local communities. 

So in Library Freedom Project I work with the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. You might know them as the peo­ple who rep­re­sent Snowden. I work very close­ly with the ACLU of Massachusetts in par­tic­u­lar, because I live in Boston. ACLU Massachusetts is a cool ACLU because Massachusetts, we kind of worked out all the stuff that a lot of ACLUs end up fight­ing for all the time, so no one’s com­ing for our repro­duc­tive rights, we’ve got decrim­i­nal­ized weed, all the good stuff. So ACLU gets to work pret­ty par­tic­u­lar­ly on police mil­i­ta­riza­tion issues and sur­veil­lance issues, and the inter­sec­tion of the two.

So the ACLU are the folks who come with me to our pri­va­cy tranin­ings. They teach librar­i­ans about their rights under the law and their pri­va­cy respon­si­bil­i­ties, and kind of what to do if they find them­selves in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, and it comes up in ways that maybe you would­n’t expect. The National Security Letters are a big thing. Libraries have got­ten these before and folks might not know that libraries were some of the first peo­ple to resist the receipt of NSLs. They were co-plaintifs with awe­some Nick [Merrill] from Calyx Institute. Some librar­i­ans in Connecticut chal­le­neged the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of the gag, and we want to see more of that kind of resis­tance in our libraries. We want to let librar­i­ans know that they can do this.

But them some oth­er ways that it might come up. You know, if the local police install a ShotSpotter on the build­ing of your library, which is essen­tial­ly an audio sur­veil­lance device, what are your rights? How can you get rid of this thing? What are the capa­bil­i­ties of it? So the ACLU gets to bring in those contours.

When we go to dif­fer­ent states, we bring in the local ACLU so that each place we go to can get the spe­cial local rela­tion­ship to the law, what­ev­er their data pri­va­cy rights are, what exist­ing law reform efforts are hap­pen­ing, what impact lit­i­ga­tion their local ACLU is work­ing on. And then there’s a great com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tion that hap­pens, so that the libraries get to meet their ACLU reps and then go for­ward and maybe be clients and do awe­some stuff together.

We’re also super lucky that we get to work with the Tor Project. We start­ed work­ing with Tor Project maybe about a year ago, right when the project was kind of tak­ing off—Library Freedom Project, that is. Obviously the Tor Porject is old-school. We get to work with them on out­reach, com­mu­ni­ty efforts, giv­ing our usabil­i­ty expe­ri­ence, and help­ing make Tor Browser eas­i­er for ordi­nary peo­ple, non-technical peo­ple to use.

We also work with some oth­er groups on a here and there basis, like the Free Software Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the good peo­ple work­ing on Sandstorm over at Thoughtworks, and inde­pen­dent pri­va­cy activists, attor­neys, and all kinds of cool peo­ple all over the place.

We have a few spe­cial projects. One of them is get­ting libraries to deploy HTTPS by default on all of their web sites and all the ser­vices they con­trol. It’s called The Library Digital Privacy Pledge. We’re work­ing with Let’s Encrypt on this a lit­tle bit, using the Let’s Encrypt ini­tia­tive to push libraries for­ward and let them know that this is an indus­try stan­dard and we can be lead­ers in our com­mu­ni­ties, and also mak­ing the case for it as a read­er pri­va­cy issue. Letting libraries know that any­thing that folks are search­ing for in our cat­a­logs, if it’s dis­cov­er­able by some­one observ­ing their net­work traf­fic, then they tru­ly can’t have intel­lec­tu­al free­dom. The rela­tion­ship of intel­lec­tu­al free­dom and pri­va­cy is obvi­ous­ly that if you don’t have pri­va­cy, you can’t read, write, and research freely. Your speech is chilled, and we care kind of a lot about that in libraries. So, we’ve got this HTTPS campaign. 

Another big thing that we’re work­ing on is open­ing up Tor relays in libraries. Libraries some­times have quite a lot of band­width. They’re mov­ing to fiber in a lot of com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cial­ly big­ger libraries, aca­d­e­m­ic libraries, big pub­lic insti­tu­tions. They can afford to donate some of the band­width to the project. It does­n’t affect their patrons at all. And it’s a real­ly great higher-level prac­ti­cal iter­a­tion of pri­va­cy pro­tec­tion, espe­cial­ly at a glob­al lev­el. We actu­al­ly just got start­ed [with] that project. We opened up our first one in the sum­mer. We had a beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tion of this library, our pilot library in New Hampshire, and we took all these pho­tos and it was awe­some and I worked very close­ly with Nima [Fatemi], who is a long-term Tor project vol­un­teer and an awe­some dude if any­one knows him here. 

We got a lot of great press atten­tion, and then we heard from the library and they said, Yeah, Department of Homeland Security just con­tact­ed us and said, We don’t like that you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in this project.’ ” Basically the DHS called their local police and spread a lit­tle fear, uncer­tain­ty, and doubt and made the library a lit­tle bit scared. So we mobi­lized a mas­sive amount of com­mu­ni­ty sup­port at the local lev­el and at the glob­al lev­el. EFF set up a peti­tion for us. We set up this peti­tion. EFF got us almost 5,000 sig­na­tures in just a few days. We wrote an open let­ter for the library sup­port­ing them and encour­ag­ing them to con­tin­ue par­tic­i­pat­ing in the project. We got all these amaz­ing pub­lic inter­est groups, a coali­tion of folks; all the ones that I men­tioned and a whole bunch more. And then we went to the library, because they were hav­ing a board meet­ing and the deci­sion was going to be made there.

So Nima and I get to this library and we’re like, alright, we’re ready, game face, we can do this. No mat­ter what hap­pens, we’ll get anoth­er library if it does­n’t work out. We turned the cor­ner, and we’re in rur­al New Hampshire, so imag­ine what a library board meet­ing in rur­al New Hampshire is like on a typ­i­cal night. You know, sort of…no one’s there. [We] turn the cor­ner, and there’s a whole crew of peo­ple out­side hold­ing signs. It was the world’s first-ever Tor protest. Pro-Tor protest, I should say. 

So these com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are hold­ing all these amaz­ing signs, DHS out of my library,” I love Tor.” There were some curi­ous ones that were like, DHS, we’re gonna Tor them a new one,” a sort of bad pun but what­ev­er. And there was even a lit­tle 4 year-old girl hold­ing a sign that said Down with Big Brother” and I was like, I’m done.

So we went into the board meet­ing, and there were sev­er­al dozen peo­ple there. I spoke for like two sec­onds and said this is who we are and what we’re try­ing to do and we’d like to con­tin­ue this. Then the com­mu­ni­ty got to speak, and what was on dis­play there was one of the most pow­er­ful things I’ve ever wit­nessed. Community mem­bers talk­ing about why they love using Tor, what intel­lec­tu­al free­dom and pri­va­cy means to them, what fight­ing sur­veil­lance means to them, why this is such an impor­tant fight in our local communities. 

People who had nev­er heard of Tor before heard about it from the media atten­tion that had hap­pened around this thing, end­ed up down­load­ing the brows­er and using it. One woman was hold­ing her small child in her arms (it might’ve been the Big Brother kid, actu­al­ly) and she said, The idea that there are bad peo­ple on the Internet that want to hurt my child, that is hor­ri­fy­ing to me, but that fear is not worth tak­ing away oth­er peo­ple’s free­doms, and I want to teach my child that this is the sort of life that she should live also,” and brought the house down. Another woman, who worked at the library, was from Colombia and said, I’ve lived through a civ­il war in my coun­try. I know what it means for peo­ple to face state vio­lence because of their speech. And I wish that Tor had exist­ed in my coun­try when I lived there and lived through that because some of the peo­ple that I knew might still be with us today.” 

It was this incred­i­bly pow­er­ful pub­lic ref­er­en­dum around sur­veil­lance and pri­va­cy. The board was of course very moved. They had also done their own research and they were on board, too, so it was a lit­tle anti-climactic at the end. Everybody was like, Well we’re just into this. I guess we should keep going.” But we decid­ed to keep the relay up, and I’m hap­py to announce that the pilot is now com­plete. We turned it into an exit just recent­ly. We had to make some changes to the library’s net­work. It’s our first suc­cess­ful one in a library, and we’ve got a bunch more lined up, so it’s going to be a big huge project, and also international. 

I think what is amaz­ing to me about the work that we’re able to do at Library Freedom Project is it takes the incred­i­ble work of the free soft­ware com­mu­ni­ty, the pri­va­cy activist com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple who work in impact lit­i­ga­tion and law reform, and brings it to the peo­ple that it impacts the most. A what I’ve also seen is that there is a chang­ing tide, [in] how peo­ple think about these things. That the pub­lic cares very deeply about their pri­va­cy, and they are ready to fight back.

So, you can join us. You can work with us to help make free soft­ware tools more ubiq­ui­tous. You can help us edu­cate our local com­mu­ni­ties around sur­veil­lance threats and pri­va­cy rights. If you’re a tech­nol­o­gist, you can vol­un­teer your time to help some of these libraries set up the sys­tems that we rec­om­mend to them. And all of us togeth­er, through col­lec­tive direct action and resis­tance, can help hon­or Aaron’s legacy. 

So I would love to hear from you. We’re at libraryfree​dom​pro​ject​.org. We’re also going to be at the hackathon tomor­row, so come and find me. 

Thank you so much your time, everybody.

Further Reference

The Aaron Swartz Day web site.