Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Privacy Disclaimer

I took a couple of photos of the decal in the U.T. Dallas library which reads "Audio Monitoring On These Premises / Louroe Electronics". I highlighted the position of the sign in red in the second photo so that you can see where it is located over the checkout desk.

The Louroe Electronics website states:

The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that any conversation between individuals is private, unless otherwise notified. In simple terms, this means that any overhearing or recording of a conversation is illegal ...unless both parties are aware that it is being done.

In order to comply with the law, LOUROE ELECTRONICS provides a disclaimer stating, AUDIO MONITORING ON THE PREMISES. These disclaimers must be affixed, in plain view, to all entrances where the microphones are installed.

I have been told that the audio monitoring in the library has been going on for years. I have been going to the library for years and this was the first time I noticed the decal. No other student or faculty that I have told about this was aware of this either.

I have two problems with this. The first is that it seems to me that a violation of privacy of this magnitude should require explicit acknowledgment on the part of the patron. It seems contradictory to put up a notice and then use hidden microphones. It suggests they do not really want people to know that their conversations are being recorded.

The second problem I have with this is that there is no consent. This is a government building funded by taxpayer dollars. I should not have to waive my privacy rights in order to use it. Whereas video monitoring records our actions within the building, audio monitoring records our verbalized thoughts and intentions. It is too much to ask that we yield our privacy rights on this level whenever we need to enter a public facility.

Update: I just got off of the phone with Ellen Safley, Senior Associate Director, University of Texas at Dallas Library. Whereas last week a librarian told me that hidden microphones were placed upstairs to monitor conversations for homeland security, Dr. Safley assured me that the only audio monitoring in the library took place in the immediate vicinity of the checkout desk. She stated that this was so that they could refer to the recording if there was a problem. I assume by this that she meant a conflict between a patron and a librarian. Although I was still unaware that I was being recorded while I was talking near the desk, I find this much less offensive than library-wide audio monitoring among the stacks, which she assured me is not taking place.

1 comment:

The CrazyHumanist said...

I am truly puzzled why audio monitoring would be required in a LIBRARY to begin with. I can understand why stores put up cameras etc. But, if they are going to have them, the notices should be clearly marked, and in more noticeable places.

It's very disturbing. I think that is what bothers me the most. The fact that they don't make it obvious. Very interesting stuff. Makes me wonder what other public libraries do this.