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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Audio Monitoring

Years ago I fought a town council in West Virginia that passed a law requiring convenience stores to purchase security cameras and to allow the police to take the tapes whenever they wanted them. I had argued that this was an example of a Big Brother video camera in our private businesses. They replied that it would reduce crime. I then asked whether they would consider putting security cameras in our homes if they thought it would reduce domestic violence. I had meant for the question to be rhetorical but one council member immediately answered yes.

This afternoon I submitted the following letter to the editor of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) school newspaper:

Today I noticed an "Audio Monitoring" sign over the checkout desk in the U.T. Dallas library. A librarian explained to me that they used microphones to record conversations in the building for homeland security. This seems excessive for an unclassified facility.

I also asked the librarian if anyone had made any comments about the audio monitoring. She answered no with a questioning tone that communicated "Why should they?" Apparently those of us who do question such things are few and far between. If you are one of those, please join me on the Minarchist Party discussion list.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Shared Bookmarks

I have uploaded my bookmarks to del.icio.us, a website for storing and sharing bookmarks online. I will be updating them over time.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Microsoft and Libertarians

As a Java programmer, I followed news of Microsoft's anticompetitive practices closely over the years. I was interviewed by the trade press for a parody piece I wrote about it, The Ten Commandments of Java.

In the antitrust suit, one federal judge compared Microsoft to drug dealers and gangland killers. Another judge compared Microsoft to Tonya Harding. That was a number of years ago. Since then, Microsoft has paid billions of dollars in damages to the injured parties and everyone has pretty much settled.

I never forgot, though, my irritation with the national Libertarian Party for their public defense of Microsoft during the antitrust lawsuit. Instead of simply blaming the prosecution for enforcing antitrust laws and painting Microsoft as an innocent, the Libertarian Party should have pointed out that individuals have an alternative free market mechanism to punish Microsoft for its practices via the consumer boycott.

I just came across this blog entry I wanted to share with you that expresses my sentiments on this better than I ever have. It is Why Bill Gates is not Hank Rearden by Pedro Timóteo.