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Nov 30 / Isidoro Alastra

Investigating Government Information Secrecy: Closed-Door Sessions of the United States House and Senate

Written by Ann M. Schultz

In the early autumn of 2013, Syria’s leadership used chemical weapons on its own people.  This action resulted in the deaths of some 1,400 people, almost 400 of whom were children.  In response to this atrocity, the United States government debated whether or not to take military action against the Syrian regime.  As part of this debate, there were several closed-door sessions with government officials (Eilperin, 2013, para. 1).  This might lead some readers to wonder when the United States government may convene secret sessions of the House of Representatives and Senate.  Where do United States legislators and the President derive the right to meet secretly to discuss national matters?  A recent report of the Congressional Research Service answers these questions, as well as several others.

A secret session of the House and Senate is one that “exclude[s] the press and the public” (Davis, 2013, p. ii).  This type of session can be held “for matters deemed to require confidentiality and secrecy – such as national security, sensitive communications received from the President, and Senate deliberations during impeachment trials” (Davis, 2013, p. ii).  The authority to hold a closed session of Congress may be found in Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings . . . . Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their judgment require Secrecy . . . .” (Davis, 2013, p. ii).

There have been 41 closed Senate sessions since 1929 (Davis, 2013, p. 4), and six closed House sessions since 1812 (Davis, 2013, p. 5).  Some of the reasons for these secret sessions included: alleged assassination plots involving foreign leaders (Nov. 20, 1975) (Davis, 2013, p. 4); Nicaragua (Apr. 26, 1983) (Davis, 2013, p. 4); a Chemical Weapons Convention (Apr. 24, 1997) (Davis, 2013, p. 5); the impeachment trial of President William Clinton (Jan. 25-26, 1999; Feb. 9-12, 1999) (Davis, 2013, p. 5); Iraq war intelligence (Nov. 1, 2005) (Davis, 2013, p. 5); and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and electronic surveillance (Mar. 13, 2008) (Davis, 2013, p. 5).

While many may find the idea of secret sessions of United States lawmakers to be disconcerting, some individuals might be satisfied to know that these closed sessions do not seem to have been abused, with only 47 such sessions being held between both the House and the Senate in the entirety of recorded United States government history.  Nevertheless, it is important that citizens are aware that these secret sessions do happen on occasion.  Given recent government abuses uncovered by whistleblowers, such as the murder of civilians in Iraq and the unconstitutional wiretapping of, and spying on, an unknown number of United States citizens without probable cause or a warrant, it is important that Americans keep abreast of the discussions occurring in the government.

Each day it seems that new information is released that calls into question the transparency and the integrity of the American political system.  It is only through focused attention and decisive action that citizens can retain their right to be kept informed about the actions of government officials and employees.  As iconic President Thomas Jefferson stated: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  Unfortunately, it is impossible for a populace to remain vigilant if it is ignorant of the machinations of its leaders.  While the reasoned and measured use of closed-door hearings by the House and Senate is to be applauded, it behooves Americans to stay alert, to hold politicians accountable, and to make sure that they do not fall down the slippery slope of government censorship, obfuscation, and reprisal.

Discussion Question(s):

  1. Do you believe that U.S. legislation regarding closed sessions of the House and Senate should be revised?  Why or why not?
  2. If you do believe that U.S. policy should be modified, what modifications do you believe are appropriate?

Ann M. Schultz is a licensed Michigan attorney.  She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law, and her Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology from Albion College.  She expects to receive her Master of Library and Information Science with a Certificate in Information Management in 2014 from the Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science.


Davis, C. M. (Mar. 15, 2013).  Secret Sessions of the House and Senate: Authority, Confidentiality, and Frequency. Congressional Research Service.  Retrieved from

Eilperin, J. (Sept. 2, 2013).  McCain says rejecting Syria resolution would be ‘catastrophic.’  The Washington Post.  Retrieved from

Nov 30 / Isidoro Alastra

Protecting Consumer Viewing Habits: Reflections on the Video Privacy Protection Act

Written by Ann M. Schultz 

In September of 1987, I was looking forward to my eleventh birthday and completely unaware of the controversy that was brewing in regard to President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to serve on the United States Supreme Court.  That fall, as I roller-skated down quiet, tree-lined suburban streets in a small Midwestern neighborhood, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a five-day long confirmation hearing to determine whether Federal Judge Robert Bork would become Supreme Court Justice Robert Bork.

During that hearing, Robert Bork’s personal video rental history came under scrutiny after Washington City Paper reporter, Michael Dolan, walked into a Washington D.C.-area video store and requested a copy of Bork’s rental records (Dolan, n.d.).  Although Bork’s taste in videos was rather unexceptional, including such popular and innocuous films as A Day at the Races, Ruthless People, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dolan’s public disclosure of the information in the now infamous newspaper article set off a firestorm of criticism and controversy throughout the nation regarding the right to privacy and the limits of the government’s right to know (“Robert Bork,” 2013).

Ironically, Dolan convinced his editor to print the video rental story based on Bork’s own professional legal writings, which argued that the U.S. Constitution does not directly confer broad privacy rights on citizens (Dolan, n.d.).  According to Bork’s originalist interpretation of the Constitution, the only privacy rights that individuals enjoy are those that are specifically granted by federal and state laws (“Robert Bork,” 2013).

Nevertheless, in response to the information leak and the resultant debate, Congress enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (VPPA) (“Robert Bork,” 2013).  This law forbids video rental stores from releasing customer rental records without the informed, written consent of the patron (Center for Democracy and Technology, 2013).  Additionally, the Act requires rental providers to destroy personally identifiable consumer information within one year of the date that it is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was originally collected (Center for Democracy and Technology, 2013).  Video rental stores that fail to adhere to the provisions of this law may be liable for actual damages in the amount of $2,500.00 per individual, as well as punitive damages, attorney fees, and court costs (18 U.S.C. § 2710).  Perhaps surprisingly, this law has become one of the strongest protections that Americans have against the disclosure of private information.

Despite the passage of time, the Video Privacy Protection Act is still relevant some twenty-five years after its introduction.  In an online article for CNET earlier this year, writer Jason Cipriani discussed ways in which customers can modify their user account settings in order to help protect their privacy in the midst of the new social integration of Netflix and Facebook.  Netflix (n.d.) is an American company that offers film and television content to viewers via an Internet streaming service, while Facebook (n.d.) is a social networking website “that connects people with friends and others who work, study, and live around them.”  While “video rental” may look vastly different now than it did in 1988, the provisions of the Video Protection Act remain applicable and enforceable (“Video Privacy Protection Act,” 2013).  In fact, even in this age of digital streaming, viewer data is still sensitive, personal information that many individuals would prefer to keep private.

Proof of this fact comes in the form of several lawsuits that have been filed against various media companies over the past five years.  For instance, consumers filed a class action lawsuit in 2008 against Blockbuster, Inc. in regards to its customer information privacy policies.  This litigation involved a Texas consumer’s complaint that Blockbuster Online disclosed customer rental and sales records to Facebook without the informed consent required by the VPPA (“Video Privacy Protection Act,” 2013).  Specifically, the complaint alleged that: “Defendant clearly knows that plaintiffs’ and class members’ personally identifiable information was and currently still is being distributed to Facebook because defendant’s Web site pop-up screen tells plaintiffs and class members that their information is being sent to Facebook every time plaintiffs and class members rent, purchase or add a movie to their queue” (Vijayan, 2008).

In practice, Blockbuster’s participation in Facebook’s Beacon advertising program resulted in a Blockbuster Online user’s video “rental” selections being transmitted to Facebook, which would then in turn automatically communicate the choice to the user’s Facebook friends (Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., 2009).  All this occurred without the permission of the affected customer.  The case was eventually settled out of court for several million dollars, but Blockbuster did agree as part of the terms of the settlement agreement to cease all participation in the Facebook Beacon program (Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., 2010).  The company also agreed to include a disclosure on its website regarding its privacy policies, as well as a disclosure regarding the terms of the Video Privacy Protection Act (Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., 2010).

In another lawsuit, Doe v. Netflix, which was filed in 2009, a California resident sued Netflix for privacy invasion after Netflix disclosed two large datasets from 480,000 customers to more than 50,000 people (Singel, 2009).  These datasets contained “100 million movie ratings, along with the date of the rating, a unique ID number for the subscriber, and the movie info[rmation]”, and were released as part of a contest to help Netflix improve its movie recommendation algorithm (Singel, 2009).  The Plaintiff, a mother and closeted-lesbian, alleged that Netflix “made it possible for her to be outed when it disclosed insufficiently anonymous information about nearly half-a-million customers as part of its $1 million contest” (Singel, 2009).  Plaintiff’s counsel argued that this action violated both fair-trade laws and the Video Privacy Protection Act (Singel, 2009).

Shortly after the contest started, two researchers from the University of Texas actually “identified several Netflix users by comparing their ‘anonymous’ reviews in the Netflix data to ones posted on the Internet Movie Database website,” including “identifying their political leanings and sexual orientation” (Singel, 2009).  In the complaint filed by the Plaintiff, her attorneys argued that “marketers [would] suck up the data, combine it with other data sets and start pigeon-holing people into marketing categories based on assumptions about the movies they rated” (Singel, 2009).  The Plaintiff’s attorneys also argued persuasively:

[M]ovie and rating data contains information of a more highly personal and sensitive nature. The member’s movie data exposes a Netflix member’s personal interest and/or struggles with various highly personal issues, including sexuality, mental illness, recovery from alcoholism, and victimization from incest, physical abuse, domestic violence, adultery, and rape.

The Plaintiffs’ and class members’ movie data and ratings, which were released without authorization or consent, have now become a permanent, public record on the Internet, free to be manipulated and exposed at the whim of those who have the Database.

(Singel, 2009)

Moreover, Jane Doe reported in the complaint that she instigated the lawsuit against Netflix because she believed that “were her sexual orientation public knowledge, it would negatively affect her ability to pursue her livelihood and support her family and would hinder her and her children’s ability to live peaceful lives” (Singel, 2009).  Ultimately, this case was dismissed in 2010 (Jane Doe v. Netflix, 2010).  Unfortunately, because the settlement agreement was confidential in nature, it is not entirely clear what impact this lawsuit has had on Netflix’s privacy policies and practices (Jane Doe v. Netflix, 2010).  Notably, however, Netflix did modify its privacy policy in 2012 so that it no longer retains the viewing history records of former customers (Farivar, 2012).  In addition, Netflix altered its data retention policy so that it decouples viewing history from personally identifiable information for those customers whose accounts have been inactive for at least one year (Farivar, 2012).

With the recent marriage of Facebook and Netflix, it will be interesting to see whether these two Internet giants have learned anything from the events of the last few years.  In the meantime, while consumers wait to see how this new partnership works out in the legal arena, Netflix customers can take certain steps to help protect themselves and their viewing habits from the scrutiny of strangers.  Consumers can opt out of sharing their viewing history with their Facebook friends by visiting their account settings page (Cipriani, 2013).  Currently, sharing viewing habits with Facebook friends on Netflix is enabled by default, “while sharing directly to Facebook is disabled by default” (Cipriani, 2013).  Users can make any desired changes “by logging in [at],” “clicking on the ‘my account’ link at the top” of the page, clicking on the “preferences” category, and then clicking on “social settings” (Cipriani, 2013).  From the “social settings” menu, users “can disable sharing to Netflix across the board, or enable sharing what [they are] watching to Facebook” (Cipriani, 2013).  Users “can also unshare items individually on a title-by-title basis” (Cipriani, 2013).

As technology enables people, companies, and governments to increasingly intrude into the private affairs and the everyday lives of individuals, to trespass on personal boundaries, and to divulge closely-guarded secrets, it is good to know that there are laws like the Video Privacy Protection Act in place to protect Americans.  However, even the strongest piece of legislation cannot protect a citizenry that is unwilling to stand up and demand that these laws be followed and that their rights be respected and honored.  It is disheartening that major corporations are still knowingly violating the VPPA two and a half decades after Robert Bork’s unsuccessful bid to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Discussion Question(s):

  1. Do you think that the Video Privacy Protection Act is still sufficient to protect the privacy rights of American citizens?  Why or why not?
  2. What purposes do you think are served by protecting the viewing and borrowing histories of American citizens (e.g., national purposes, personal purposes, etc.)?

Ann M. Schultz is a licensed Michigan attorney.  She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law, and her Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology from Albion College.  She expects to receive her Master in Library and Information Science with a Certificate in Information Management in 2014 from the Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science.


Bork, R. H.  (1990).  The right of privacy: The construction of a Constitutional time bomb. Principles of Constitutional Interpretation, pgs. 311-14. Reprinted from The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law.

Center for Democracy and Technology.  (2013).  Existing Federal privacy laws. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Cipriani, J.  (2013, Mar. 15).  Get to know Netflix and its new Facebook integration.  CNET.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Dolan, M. (n.d.).  The Bork tapes saga.  The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Facebook.  (n.d.).  Home. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from‎

Farivar, C.  (2012, July 30).  Class-action lawsuit settlement forces Netflix privacy changes. Arstechnica.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from      privacychanges/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+arstechnica%2Findex+%28Ars+Technica+-+All+content%29

Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., 622 F.Supp.2d 396 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 15, 2009), Memorandum Opinion

Harris v. Blockbuster Inc., 622 F.Supp.2d 396 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 1, 2010), Settlement Agreement

(aka, Lane v. Facebook – Blockbuster Settlement) (Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-217-M), Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Jane Doe v. Netflix, (N.D. Cal. Mar. 19, 2010), Notice of Dismissal (Case No. C09-05903-JW-PVT)

Netflix.  (n.d.).  Company overview.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Robert Bork.  (2013, November 22).  In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Singel, R.  (2009, Dec. 17).  Netflix spilled your Brokeback Mountain secret, lawsuit claims. Wired.  Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Video Privacy Protection Act.  (2013, June 28).  In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988.  18 U.S.C. § 2710.

Vijayan, J.  (2008, Apr. 18).  Blockbuster sued over Facebook Beacon information sharing. Computerworld. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

Zetter, K.  (2009, Nov. 6).  Lawsuit accuses Facebook of conspiring to break video-privacy law. Wired. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from



Nov 26 / Kimberly Mason

Wayne State University Information Policies: Are they FERPA compliant?

Written by Emma Macguidwin

Universities can and should take a number of measures to ensure that students’ records are kept private. Wayne State University (WSU), for example, claims to adhere to the measures of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. As a student at WSU, I feel reasonably certain that my student records are kept private and are generally being used for appropriate educational purposes. However, there are situations in which WSU could do a better job of informing students of their rights and the specific circumstances under which their records might be released without their permission.FERPA
South Texas College of Law (2013)

In its “Privacy of Academic Records” policy, WSU states that the privacy and release of student record information is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enacted in 1974. (Wayne State University, 2013a). FERPA is administered by the Family Policy Compliance Office in the U.S. Department of Education, and applies to all educational agencies and institutions that receive funding under programs administered by the Department. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011; 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99.) FERPA imposes limits on the disclosure of student records by educational agencies and institutions that receive funds from the Department of Education. (Winnick, et al., p. 3). FERPA generally prohibits the disclosure to third parties of personally identifiable information contained in an “eligible student’s” (one who has attained 18 year of age or attends a postsecondary institution) education records unless the eligible student has provided written consent. Although this provision is a major vehicle in which universities protect students’ rights to privacy, there are a number of exceptions to this prohibition. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).

One of the exceptions allows school officials (including teachers) to obtain access to personally identifiable information contained in education records if the school has determined that it has a “legitimate educational interest” in the information. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). A school generally has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). WSU cites this exception, but instead of echoing the statutory definition of “legitimate educational interest,” WSU merely states that such an interest is one in which an official “needs to review” a student’s educational record. (Wayne State University, 2013a). Thus, it is not clear whether WSU has adopted the exact definition set forth in FERPA, and students could be confused by this policy. Moreover, students’ rights to privacy could be jeopardized if WSU claimed that a school official simply “needed to review” a student’s educational record, even if the school official did not need to fulfill a professional responsibility obligation. WSU would do well to modify this definition on its website, not only to minimize any confusion on the part of students, but also to make sure it is complying with FERPA.

Students’ rights to privacy could also be affected by another exception to the prohibition against non-consensual disclosure of personally identifiable student information. This exception permits a school to disclose information when it is appropriately designated as “directory” information. “Directory information” is information that is contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if it were disclosed. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). WSU mirrors the definition of directory information in FERPA: name, address, age or date of birth, level of education, major, etc. (Wayne State University, 2013a; Department of Education, 2011). However, WSU further states that directory information “may be released at the university’s discretion to anyone who makes a request.” (Wayne State University, 2013a). This statement does not follow the statutory language of FERPA, which provides for specific steps a school must follow before it can release directory information (including giving public notice of the types of information it has designated as directory information, the student’s right to restrict the disclosure of the information, and the period of time within which a student has to notify the school that he or she does not want certain information designated as directory information). (Department of Education, 2011). The language WSU has used suggests that the university can provide such information in almost any context, which might cause students to believe that their private information could be given out without their having an opportunity to restrict its disclosure.

However, WSU does offer protections to students by reiterating that students may restrict the release of directory information by filing a Request to Restrict Release of Directory Information form with the Records and Registration office. (Wayne State University, 2013a). Thus, I would feel reasonably certain that my private information – even if it were merely considered “directory information” – would not be improperly released without my consent, although it might be useful for WSU to provide examples of when and to whom directly information may be released

FERPA also requires that a school inform students of how it defines the terms “school official” and “legitimate educational interest” in its annual notification of FERPA rights. (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). I found a PDF document on the registrar’s website entitled Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act: Guidelines for Wayne State University Faculty, Students, and Staff. (Wayne State University, 2013b). This document provides detailed information about different FERPA provisions, including outlining who is protected under FERPA, specifying what is considered an educational record, what documents can be removed from an educational record before a student views the record, and what is “directory” information. This document states that WSU is required to notify students on an annual basis of students’ rights to inspect and review their records, their rights to challenge the content of their records, etc., but it does not state in what manner students will be notified. Overall, however, this document should make students feel reasonably certain that their student records are being kept private.

One other area of concern that I have as a student in the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at WSU is that, surprisingly, I could not find a specific student privacy policy set forth by SLIS. The school merely includes a link at the bottom of the “Students” web page to “Privacy and University Policies.” (School of Library and Information Science, 2013). This link only takes the user to the general page for University Policies, and does not clearly indicate that privacy is covered. Thus, SLIS does not clearly state that it follows FERPA or the policies of WSU, and as a SLIS student, I would have to research the policies of WSU in order to ensure that my student records are kept safe. SLIS might consider including a more conspicuous privacy policy on its website.

An area that could be a cause for concern involves students’ circulation history in academic libraries. “Library management technology, which captures student information, can . . . pose a serious threat to students’ privacy. Circulation systems, for instance, retain the title of every item that has checked out, unless they’re specifically set to delete a student’s circulation history.” (Adams, p. 36). However, the WSU Libraries have set forth a clear and comprehensive privacy policy that ensures that student information is protected. In the University Libraries “Privacy Policy,” WSU states that it removes links between patron records and materials borrowed when items are returned, and it deletes records “as soon as the original purpose for data collection has been satisfied.” (University Libraries, 2013). The policy also indicates that the libraries will not give out personal information to a third party unless compelled to do so under the law or to comply with a court order. (University Libraries, 2013). Thus, the libraries have taken concrete steps to protect student information, and to make students aware of these policies.

Adams, H. R. (2011). The privacy problem, School Library Journal, 57(4), pp. 34-37.

School of Library and Information Science (2013). Student Home Page. Retrieved from

United States Department of Education (2011). FERPA General Guidelines for Students. Retrieved from

Wayne State University (2013a). Privacy of Academic Records: Student Rights Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Retrieved from

Wayne State University (2013b). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act: Guidelines for Wayne State University Faculty, Students, and Staff (FERPA). Retrieved from

Wayne State University – University Libraries (2013). Privacy Policy. Retrieved from

Nov 24 / Isidoro Alastra

Where are you sharing information (Whether you realize it or not)?

Written by Nicole BurrisGroup1blogpic_NicoleBurris

What’s on your mind?” Facebook users across the internet are faced with that question every day. We know that when we type in that status box and hit send, we are sharing with our “friends.” Do we take the time to think about how much information we share, not only with the people that we choose to connect to, but also with the entire Internet? Users must think about the content they share with the social media world, including internet browsers and apps. This post will look at Facebook and Google, the most popular sites where people share information, to discover what information people are sharing, and how it may be used by the site.

Facebook Profile

Remember all of that information that you had to fill out in order to start your Facebook page? What you may not realize is that information remains public. This includes information such as:

  • Your Name;
  • Your Profile Pictures and Cover Photos;
  • Your Gender; and
  • Your Username and ID (Notess, 2009).

However, depending on the settings you put in place, other information can also be shared. If you choose to have your Facebook profile information set to “public,” this information can be seen by anyone on the Internet. This may be an obvious assertion; however it could make you think more about what you post on Facebook. In fact, according to the Facebook data use policy, a user should assume that information is publicly available unless a “share” button is visible (Facebook, n.d.). Another interesting consideration gleaned from the Facebook data use policy is that when your friends share information about you it can be made public (Facebook, n.d.).

So how is Facebook using all of this information? Some of the reasons are good, such as the development of products to keep Facebook safe and secure, or to protect rights and property. The information is also used to inform you of features and services, to measure and understand the effectiveness of ads, and for suggestions for ways for users to use the site and internal operations.

Google and Google Apps

We all know that Google keeps track of what people are searching for on its site and offers suggestions for what we want to search for. Google has even become a point of comedic commentary.  Google collects our data from across their various services to present a uniform identity, and match ads, services, and information streams to our preferences (Google, n.d.). Google continues to create new applications and derive more information from us with each one. For example, using Google Reader allows Google to monitor the blogs you read and subscribe to. Google also knows what videos you watch and topics that interest you since Google also owns YouTube. By utilizing Google Desktop, users allow Google to know everything that is on their computer. Here are some apps by Google that are collecting information from you:

  • Google AdSense – online adverting program that uses cookies to record visits to webpages;
  • Google Reader – information about blogs that you subscribe to and read;
  • Google Analytics – collects information about website operations, popularity, and trends;
  • Gmail – information about your communications;
  • Google Desktop – information about everything contained on a PC;
  • Google Docs – information contained in documents and spreadsheets;
  • Google Calendar – information about your schedule and monthly activities;
  • Google Maps – information about where you live and the places that you go;
  • Google Books – through buying textbooks through Google books you reveal information about what type of classes you take or topics that interest you; and
  • Google Chrome- information about all websites visited (Phillips, 2009).

Of course, some of the ways listed that Google uses information are obvious. The information is used to create ads that are based on a user’s interests. Google can successfully compile more data about a person than any other site.

Discussion Questions

Were any of the ways that Google collects information from its users a surprise to you?

How does this change the way that you view sharing your information on Facebook or Google?


Facebook (n.d.). Data Use Policy. Retrieved from

Google (n.d.). Privacy Policy. Retrieved November 22, 2013 from: Google

Notess, G. R. (2009). Privacy in the Age of the Social Web. Online, 33(4), 41-43.

Phillips, Courtney (2009). 25 Surprising Things that Google Knows About You [web log post]. Retrieved from

Nov 24 / Isidoro Alastra

Internet Privacy and Protecting Patrons

Written by Barb Szutkowski

As librarians, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted” (Code of Ethics of the American Library Association, n.d.).  This responsibility now includes providing patrons with privacy while they are accessing the Internet.  Two necessary steps in this process are selecting a browser with a reputation of being secure, and configuring the browser settings to provide an adequate level of protection.  Libraries also need to promote good practices of online reputation management within their communities.

“Selecting software that has historically proven to be secure, such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, immediately places your users in a safer arena” (Kern & Phetteplace, 2012, p. 211).  Conversely, Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari browser are known to be more vulnerable.  It is also important to install anti-virus and anti-malware software on the library’s public computers to provide further protection.

After choosing an appropriate browser, a library needs to configure user preferences on its computers in a way that helps to avoid the exposure of patrons’ data.  “Browsing history, download history, form autofill information, and most especially passwords should all be erased each time the browser is exited” (Kern & Phetteplace, 2012, p. 211).  Appropriate settings are especially important on public computers so that information from a person’s browsing session cannot be viewed by the next user.

In addition to providing safe browsing environments, another way for libraries to help protect patrons is by integrating “online reputation management into privacy awareness events and existing digital literacy instruction” (Magnuson, 2011, p. 137).  This integration can begin to happen by taking the following steps:

  1. Expand the ethics conversation
  2. Promote user empowerment
  3. Set an example
  4. Make connections
  5. Celebrate privacy
    (Magnuson, 2011, pp. 138-139).

Although this list was prepared for academic libraries, public libraries can also utilize these guidelines.

Expand the ethics conversation:  In addition to promoting awareness about the ethical issues related to using copyrighted content in the online environment, it is important to address the ethical handling of private information.  Librarians need to include these issues in digital literacy instruction whenever possible.

Promote user empowerment:  Patrons need to be taught how to take advantage of the available opportunities “to shape their online reputation and promote themselves through awareness, vigilance, and critical thinking” (Magnuson, 2011, p. 139).  Instead of only being told about the privacy concerns and negative consequences of using social media, they need to understand the importance of their online presence and learn how to take responsibility for managing their images.

Set an example:  The library should display its privacy policy to patrons using its online reference tools to increase awareness of issues related to privacy and security.  Reference librarians should include a brief discussion of these issues when assisting patrons in accessing information through online sources.

Make connections:  In an academic setting, coordinate the library’s efforts to promote awareness of privacy and security issues with campus career services, seminars, and faculty members teaching courses about the implications of social media marketing.  In a public library, an effort needs to be made to educate patrons on this topic by communicating guidelines in a number of ways, such as on the library’s website, in pamphlets and bookmarks available in the library, and through instruction in all classes related to using online tools.

Celebrate privacy:  “ALA’s first Privacy Week was May 2-8, 2010, and International Data Privacy Day was January 28, 2011.  These events offer great opportunities to promote online privacy as an issue of user empowerment, encourage dialogue across your campus, and expand the library’s visibility and relevance” (Magnuson, 2011, p. 139).

Librarians need to be aware of the impact of advances in technology on their roles and responsibilities.  This article has discussed the responsibility to protect the privacy and confidentiality of library patrons as they seek, obtain, and use information through the use of the internet.  A more direct way that “librarians can most easily inform users about the privacy implications of mobile technology [and the use of the internet] is through implementing privacy oriented services. A basic incarnation of this would be to offer to configure privacy settings for users on mobile devices and social networks” (Cyrus & Baggett, 2012, p. 294).  Although this is already being done at some library help desks, “advertising this as a service of the library may draw in users who otherwise would not have sought help” (Cyrus & Baggett, 2012, p. 294).  Another specific area which requires attention is the use of mobile devices.  It is important for library and information science professionals to constantly monitor changes in technology in order to understand and embrace the effect of those changes on the responsibilities of librarians.

Discussion Questions

  1. How concerned are you about privacy when browsing the internet?
  2. What steps do you take (if any) to protect your privacy and security when accessing the internet?


Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2013, from

Cyrus, J., & Baggett, M. (2012). Mobile technology: implications for privacy and librarianship. Reference Librarian, 53(3), 284-296.

Kern, M., & Phetteplace, E. (2012). Hardening the browser. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(3), 210-214.

Magnuson, L. (2011). Promoting privacy: Online and reputation management as an information literacy skill. College & Research Libraries News, 72(3), 137-140.

Nov 20 / Joanna Sturgeon

Library Information Access Policies

Written by Emma MacGuidwin

Some of the most obvious instances of information policies that affect my daily life are those found in the various libraries that I visit. For example, I am a cardholder at the Kent District Library (KDL), which is a member of the Lakeland Library Cooperative (Lakeland) and the Michigan eLibrary (MeL). (Lakeland Library Cooperative, 2013; Michigan eLibrary, 2013). I regularly patronize KDL, especially to find material for my online classes. However, I do not often think about how the library and cooperative policies affect the information to which I have access and the decisions I regularly make about items that I will borrow. Most of the time, these library policies provide me with access to a vast universe of information, but occasionally, the policies prevent me from gaining full access to materials, although this is usually an unintended effect.

KDL’s Materials Selection Policy states that KDL “supports the principles of intellectual freedom adopted by the American Library Association and stated in the Library Bill of Rights.” (KDL Policy 1.3, 2013). The library “assures equal access to all library resources by patrons within the constraints of Michigan law,” and patrons are “free to select or reject for themselves any item in the collection.” (KDL Policy 1.5, 2013). This policy of open access to all library materials for a cardholder is a core, universal value of librarianship, espoused by the ALA and libraries worldwide (“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.”). (American Library Association, 1980). However, I do not often consider or appreciate how such a policy allows me to easily access anything in the library. For example, although I typically frequent my home “branch” of KDL, I have access to any print materials located at any of the 18 KDL branches, and all KDL cardholders have access to the same electronic databases. These principles of giving patrons open access and allowing them to exercise independent judgment in choosing materials are so engrained in me that it is difficult to imagine what it would be like if I were unable to check out everything that I wanted.

However, KDL’s membership in Lakeland and MeL, while opening up the universe of information available to me as a KDL cardholder, results in policies that do not reflect the principle of total “open access” that is available for all KDL materials. KDL states that inter-library loan transactions “are an essential library service to patrons,” and that KDL agrees to participate in inter-library loan to and from other libraries. (KDL Policy 1.7, 2013). KDL also states that all current Lakeland member library cards will be honored by KDL, but there are exceptions, i.e., non-resident local use library cards, underfunded contract service area cards, and institutional cards. (KDL Policy 2.2, 2013). Thus, other Lakeland member cardholders are restricted by KDL’s policies, and KDL cardholders are restricted by the policies of other member libraries. Several Lakeland libraries do not allow outside individuals, who are still part of the Lakeland cooperative, to check out certain materials, or these users cannot borrow materials for as long. Individuals often have to return the materials directly to the lending library, instead of being able to drop them off at their local library. Individuals are also typically unable to access the electronic databases of other member libraries.

In the same manner, although I can request items from any member library in the Michigan eLibrary, I typically have to do this through my own library. I cannot simply go to another MeL library, present my KDL card, and check out books. I experienced this recently when my MeL request was not going to be delivered to my home library in time and I tried to go directly to the lending library to check the books out in person. And, as with the Lakeland electronic databases, I cannot access the electronic databases of other MeL libraries unless I am also a cardholder at those libraries.

Usually, the information policies of other libraries that restrict my access to materials are not intended to discriminate against me as a non-cardholder. They might simply be logistical issues; the libraries must make sure that their cardholders have ready access to materials and thus cannot allow non-cardholders to borrow the material for as long. Some materials are in high demand or are only available in limited stock, and thus cannot circulate to non-borrowers. And, in the case of electronic databases, libraries are subject to strict licensing agreements that limit the number of users that can access the databases, or they can only be accessed by the library’s cardholders. However, it is only when my access to information is restricted that I start to reflect on information policies at libraries and how these policies affect the content to which I am entitled.


American Library Association. (2013). Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from

Kent District Library. (2013). KDL Policy Manual. Retrieved from

Lakeland Library Cooperative. (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from

Michigan eLibrary (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from

University Library: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013). Image [Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery]. Retrieved from

Nov 20 / Kimberly Mason

Can Social Media Affect Information Policy Making?

Written by Sianee Hawkins

When was the last time you sat down to write your state representative? Have you ever been actively involved in developing an information policy (IP)? I define IP as the collection of laws, rules, regulations and policies, formal and informal, dealing with information from its creation, collection and dissemination that directly restrict, encourage, or otherwise shape flows of information. The advent of the Internet along with the World Wide Web has introduced different ways to access and disseminate information using new technologies such as Web 2.0. Due to these innovations, it has become relevant to develop laws and regulations affecting their proper and fair consummation.

According to Atta (2012), “Web 2.0 technologies provide members of the learning community with new and innovative ways to create, disseminate, and share information both individually and collaboratively.” Web 2.0 technologies include Google AdSense, Flickr, Wikipedia, blogging, tagging (folksonomy), RSS, and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Cohen’s (2009) explanation that “Social Media can be called a strategy and an outlet for broadcasting, while Social Networking is a tool and a utility for connecting with others” provides a good explanation of the differences between social media and social networking. Both technologies have seen exponential growth in recent years in organizations, governments, and with individuals. They can be instrumental in policy making, such as fostering interactions between policy makers, their constituencies, and government officials.

Web 2.0 technologies increasingly are becoming more available on mobile hardware, as well as computers. We live in a mobile world with smart phones and cloud applications, with the expectation that we can access information anywhere, anytime. For example, Twitter, which is limited to 140 characters, can be used on your smart phone. You can use your phone to check your Facebook account.

Jaeger, Bertot & Shilton (2012) reveal that technology such as social media “has quickly become a primary tool to disseminate government information, connect with members of the public, and provide access to services.” It contributes to shifting power away from states and institutions and transferring it to individuals, as we saw during the Arab Spring. According to Lesch and Haas (2012), the “Arab Spring unexpectedly developed in late 2010 with peaceful protests in a number of Arab countries against long-standing, entrenched regimes, and rapid political change across the region ensued.” Using social media, the revolutions of the Arab Spring awakened the world with speed, strength and contagious mobilization efforts. People were able to communicate by bypassing the government. Social media was major factor in the regime change of Tunisia and Egypt.

The U.S. Government uses an information policy environment to establish guidelines for access, use, management, and preservation of information. Access to information and new communication channels such as Facebook and smart phones present new opportunities for people to actively participate in voicing their opinions on governmental policy to make sure that government leaders respond to the peoples’ will and dynamically change the course of society. This social media/social networking digital empowerment enables their voices to be heard, compels democratic governments to include more people in deliberations and decision making, and consult the public before making policies that affect public interests.

Social media has made a major impact on government policy making. Some characteristics that give social media this leverage are: the almost instantaneous range of opinions and issues posited, stronger connectivity between users, and reduced online anonymity. Unfortunately, this technology is still in its infancy. We have not been able to develop policies quickly enough to regulate other institutions. Facebook, which is one of the most popular free social networking websites, can decide any day to change its privacy policy and there is little we can do about it. An example is the introduction of “Graph Search” in March 2013. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg clarified that Graph Search is not web search, but rather a means of digging through the massive amounts of information on the site to find exactly who or what a person wants to find. He further revealed that the searches will initially be limited to people, places, interests and photos, but posts and status messages will be searchable at some point in the future.

Facebook’s mission to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected is a double-edged sword. Users who are not diligent in applying privacy controls may be vulnerable due to the information that they are posting. For example, people using social networks during the Arab Spring may be on the radar of government officials that are not happy with the political results that transpired.

Privacy issues resulting from social network and social media have spread pervasively. People need to be aware that when posting to any of these technologies, they are building an online identity that will be available permanently. Many people feel that creating privacy settings prevents information of this nature from being seen by others, but hacking and the advent of tools like the “graph search”, has proved otherwise.

Rather than use social media to only get “positive” public opinions, government needs to utilize the technology to engage deliberations, discussions and decisions, so that more inclusive information policies are developed. Users of social media should be conscious of the kind of information they are posting because information placed on the Web is permanent.


Atta, A. (2012). Web 2.0: A Movement within the Learning Community. Information Management & Business Review, 4(12), 625-631.

Cohen, L. (2009). Is there a difference between social media and social networking? Retrieved from

Jaeger, P. T., Bertot, J. C., & Shilton, K. (2012). Information policy and social media: Framing government—citizen Web 2.0 interactions. Retrieved from

Lesch, D. W., & Haas, M. L. (2012). The Arab Spring : Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Retrieved from

Nov 19 / Kimberly Mason

Limited Public Sharing

Written by Audrey Austin

With the rise in popularity of smartphones and mobile applications come new ways in which people are able to share content and information. One of the more recent trends in mobile applications is providing location-based services. Some mobile applications that make use of location data are Facebook, Foursquare, Google Now, Google+, and Twitter. Soon, users may also be able to utilize location data, in conjunction with temporal data, to determine who can access their publicly available content.

Using cell phone towers, wifi, and global positioning satellite (GPS) data, mobile applications are able to tailor services to a user’s location and geo-tag photos, status updates, and messages. Some features are triggered automatically and others are initiated by the user. Google Now uses location data to calculate travel time to home or work and report on local weather (What is it, n.d.). Twitter allows users to opt-in to location sharing, which adds location information to Tweets and allows users to see Tweets from others who are nearby (Twitter, Inc., 2013). Facebook and Foursquare allow users to “check in” to physical locations, such as restaurants, hospitals, parks, and even cities. Photos tagged at these locations are then publicly available to other users. Facebook allows photos to be shared at varying levels of publicity: Public, Friends, selected friends (“Custom”), and private (“Only Me”) (Facebook, 2013). Google+ utilizes “circles” to organize contacts, and content can be shared with no one, individual users, one or more circles, or everyone (Circles: Share and receive updates from the right people, n.d.). Photos posted on Foursquare are publicly shared. Furthermore, each user grants to other users “a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions …, and to use, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions” in addition to the license granted to Foursquare (Foursquare Labs, Inc., 2013). None of these social networks offer a way to limit access to publicly shared content.

Christin, et al (2013) recognized the potential for limited public sharing and developed the idea of “privacy bubbles” (Share with strangers: Privacy bubbles as user-centered privacy control for mobile content sharing applications). The authors’ premise was that strangers at a public place or event may wish to share some of the photos they take with fellow attendees, but not everyone on the Internet. Current social networks define “access to the uploaded content based on social distance” (Christin, Lopez, Reinhardt, Hollick, & Kauer, 2013, p. 105). In contrast, privacy bubbles would allow users to limit the population that has access to their content by time and location. They would choose which photos to share with others who visited the same general area at approximately the same time. The degree of privacy would be inversely proportional to the size of the radius of the area and length of time chosen for sharing the content. For example, a privacy bubble set to +/- 5 minutes and 20 feet is more restrictive than one that is set to +/- 20 minutes and 50 feet. As the users move around, “the persons authorized to access [their] photos are dynamically determined for each individual photo” (Christin, Lopez, Reinhardt, Hollick, & Kauer, 2013, p. 106). The ability to create privacy bubbles would coexist with existing privacy settings in the applications that adopted it.

In the age of “Big Data,” social media networking, and location-sharing smartphones, the ability for users to choose how others can access their information is essential. Current practices utilize existing relationships between users to determine levels of sharing, but there is a large gap between “all contacts” and “the entire Internet.” Privacy bubbles would help fill in that gap.

Question: What potential roadblocks exist for implementing a privacy bubble feature in new or popular mobile applications?

Note: The privacy bubbles described by Christin et al (2013) are not the same as the “Privacy Bubbles for Google+TM” application that is available in the Chrome Web Store.


Christin, D., Lopez, P. S., Reinhardt, A., Hollick, M., & Kauer, M. (2013). Share with strangers: Privacy bubbles as user-centered privacy control for mobile content sharing applications. Information Security Technical Report, 17(3), 105-116. doi:10.1016/j.istr.2012.10.004

Facebook. (2013). Data use policy: Sharing and finding you on Facebook. Retrieved from Facebook:

Foursquare Labs, Inc. (2013, January 29). Terms of Use. Retrieved from foursquare:

Google. (n.d.). Circles: Share and receive updates from the right people. Retrieved from Google+:

Google. (n.d.). What is it. Retrieved from Google Now:

Twitter, Inc. (2013). FAQs about the Tweet location feature. Retrieved from Twitter Help Center:

Nov 18 / Isidoro Alastra

DRM: The Enforcer of Copyright as an Information Policy

Written by Aubrey Maynard


DRM (Digital Rights Management) is “a collective name for technologies that prevent you from using a copyrighted digital work beyond the degree to which the copyright owner wishes to allow you to use it” (Godwin, 2007). Copyright is utilized by publishers, software designers, web site designers, the movie industry, photographers, and various other content creators. They use DRM by implementing marking, watermarking, fingerprinting, and government regulation in an attempt to control the availability of “unprotected cop(ies) of a copyrighted digital work…[that] can and will be distributed universally on the Internet, and its distribution will destroy, or at least severely diminish, its ability to generate revenue” (Godwin, 2007). Those users that wish to circumvent DRM to enable actions that are permitted under “fair use” would be performing an illegal act due to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (Von Lohmann, n.d.) Fair use allows for innovation, experimentation, and the evolution of uses for copyrighted works.

An example of DRM in action: I have the music CD “Dream Big” by Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband, which utilizes DRM as a protection against piracy. In order to add it to my iTunes playlist, I had to back up the disk to my computer instead of ripping the tracks directly from the disk. For me, this was a small inconvenience, but in other instances DRM can be a major obstacle to access.

Populations that are often impacted by DRM are the blind, visually impaired, and print disabled. They struggle with Captcha authentication codes that are inaudible (Feld, 2013). Websites that are not accessible are difficult or impossible to use by users who are visually impaired, colorblind, suffering from motor impairment, or in need of text size modification through their browser (McCann, 2013).  It is difficult for them to get access to books or other kinds of content in a format that they can use due to the high cost of licensing, creation, or trade across borders (i.e. audio e-books with DRM required by publishers) (Feld, 2013). Some of these issues can be resolved through new legislation. In the summer of 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) gathered in Morocco to adopt the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.” The countries that sign and ratify the treaty are obligated to allow exceptions in their copyright laws “for the creation and distribution of accessible-format copies both domestically and across borders” (Band, 2013). According to Band, many aspects of the treaty are similar to the Chafee Amendment to the US Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. 121). However, U.S. publishers and disability advocates disagree on who qualifies “as an ‘authorized entity’ under the Chafee Amendment” and therefore has the right to reproduce and distribute protected works as an accessible copy (CMSI, n.d.).

So how do we utilize DRM and the principle of “fair use” without having one stakeholder (i.e. copyright owner, technologist, user) control the situation? Godwin outlines the following criteria that may lead to a broader dialogue on DRM and its implications.

A. For Copyright Owners: It must limit (or, ideally, prevent) large-scale unauthorized redistribution of copyrighted works over the Internet or any similar medium. In addition, it must allow a range of business models for distributing content, within the constraints of copyright law.

B. For Technology Makers: It must maintain technology companies’ ability to create a wide range of innovative non-infringing products, and to design, build, and maintain those products efficiently. It must maintain the ability to choose between open-source and closed-source development models. It must enable technology makers to come up with robust, interoperable, relatively simple technologies that are fault-tolerant and easy to maintain.

C. For Citizens and Ordinary Users:  It must maintain access to a wide variety of creative works, both past and present, including both public-domain works and works still protected by copyright. It must maintain access to advancing consumer technology for uses not related to copyright. It must continue to allow for [and] maintain fair use (including time-shifting, space-shifting, archiving, format translation, excerpting, and so on) and also must be flexible enough to allow for new, innovative fair uses (e.g., uses of home networking and other kinds of fair use we haven’t yet imagined or discovered)” (Godwin, 2007).

“The flaw with digital rights management for the user, is that it can cause us to accept restrictions beyond the owner’s privileges under copyright law.” (Crews, 1995)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What experiences have you had with DRM (digital rights management)?
  2. What positive/negative impacts does DRM have on copyright law/policy?
  3. Is it possible, as Godwin suggests, to have a digital rights management scheme that is beneficial to all parties? Or are we at a point where DRM restricts beyond what is required by the law?


Accessibility, the Chafee Amendment, and Fair Use. (n.d.) CMSI Center for Media & Social Impact. Retrieved November 15, 2013 from

Band, J. (2013, September). How the Marrakesh Treaty Opens Vistas for Print-Disabled Readers. American Libraries Magazine. Retrieved from

Crews, K. D. (1995). Copyright law and information policy planning: Public rights of use in the 1990s and beyond. Journal of government information, 22(2), 87-99. doi:10.1016/1352-0237(94)00041-7

Feld, H. (2013, May 29). Treaty for the Blind in Jeopardy, Copyright Zealots to Blame [Web log post]. Retrieved November 14, 2013 from

Godwin, M. (2007, July 17). What Every Citizen Should Know About DRM, a.k.a. “Digital Rights Management”. Retrieved from

McCann, S. (2013) Accessibility and Usability. Retrieved November 14, 2013 from

Von Lohmann, F. (n.d.) Fair Use and Digital Rights Management: Preliminary Thoughts on the (Irreconcilable?) Tension between Them. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved November 15, 2013 from

Nov 18 / Joanna Sturgeon

Kids, Pics, and Promos

Written by Audrey Austin

When you become a parent, you see the world with new eyes. You might discover that you look forward to being in bed before midnight, find a previously unknown tolerance for cleaning up bodily fluids, or lose your inhibitions about singing in public. Among all the new, wonderful, and disgusting experiences of parenthood, you also become legally responsible for another person. As such, you are able to sign consent forms, release forms, and legal documents in your child’s name, agreeing to the underlying policies of each document. One such form might be a release allowing the use of your child’s image by an organization or company.

I had a recent encounter with an information policy regarding my child’s image. He is a patient at C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. In October, they were soliciting nominations for their 2014 Little Victors calendar (C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 2013b). The 2013 calendar was sold for $5, and each participating patient received two free calendars (Priest, 2012). Entries were accepted from current and former Mott patients. As a fan of the hospital’s Facebook page, I have seen photos and stories of children who were part of last year’s calendar posted throughout the year (C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 2013a). I thought I knew the extent of what I was signing up for when I nominated my son. Of course, I would have to share some of his medical history and a photograph, and these would appear in the calendar and on Facebook.

I was surprised by the scope of the release form. Permission to release my child’s information was broken down into three parts with the option to approve or deny each. The first was to release the information, which included health as well as “photographs, videos, electronic or other media” containing my child’s image (University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, 2010). The second was a media release, allowing for his image to be used in various forms of media, including the Internet, TV, print and radio. The third was a public relations release, so that the information could be used “indefinitely for educational, promotional, public relations, or marketing purposes” (University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, 2010). In addition to being able to refuse any of these permissions, there was also a space to write in my own exceptions to the policy. The proper channel for revoking permission was also included. I was relieved to know that I was not signing away ownership of my child’s image and information, just allowing the hospital to use it. I have essentially leased it to them, and retain the ability to cancel that lease, all or in part.

This is all well and good, as long as I have the right to share the information. While I was filling out the paperwork, the gentleman assisting me related a story from last year in which a picture of a patient with his nurse was used in the calendar. The patient’s mother signed the release for her child, but no such release was gained from the nurse. As may be expected, the nurse was not thrilled about seeing her image used in the hospital’s calendar without permission. The mother took the photo with her camera, but was she within her rights to use it for the calendar?

Children have the same rights to privacy as adults (LexisNexis, 2013). Our image, or likeness, is a personal thing. It lives in the intersection of the First Amendment and Right to Privacy. In a private setting, such as one’s home, a person is protected from being photographed unknowingly. When we are in public, we forfeit a large degree of our expectation of privacy. Thus, it is not against the law to take a photo of someone in a public setting. A person’s image acquired in such a way can be lawfully used without permission, as long as it is not “used to promote a product, service, idea, or thing” (Rocket Lawyer, 2013). This includes posting and publishing images to the Internet. If the hospital’s use of the nurse’s image was in fact promotional, then the mother did not have the right to release the image without permission, and should have used one that only featured her child.

We sign release forms on a regular basis throughout our lives. When something becomes routine, it can easily be ignored or overlooked. For every doctor appointment, sport, activity, or even school year, there are forms to be signed. Of course, it is excellent practice to read these forms before signing, to understand the information policy to which you are agreeing. It is also important to know your rights in regards to your personal information, including your image.


C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. (2013a). C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital Facebook page. Retrieved from Facebook:

C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. (2013b, October 25). Calling all little victors. Retrieved from U of M Health Blogs:

LexisNexis. (2013). Child photography or videotaping consent laws are changing. Retrieved from

Priest, R. (2012, October 18). Calling all conquering heroes. Retrieved from U of M Health Blogs:

Rocket Lawyer. (2013). When photographers need a photo release or use of likeness. Retrieved from Rocket Lawyer:

University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. (2010). Permission to release information including photographs, videos, electronic, or other media. Retrieved from U of M Health Blogs: