A.L.A. Conference, Opening Day
I’ve been a librarian for twenty-eight years, but this is the first time I’ve attended the annual ALA Conference. By far, it’s the largest and most diverse gathering of librarians I’ve ever seen. National conferences like Internet Librarian and Computers in Libraries are dwarfed by this one! I must admit, I was a bit intimidated when I saw the lines and lines of librarians waiting at the registration desk, but we got through in just a few minutes. After getting my badge and bag, I was ready for the Opening Session with our keynote program. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!
Our featured speaker was Rebecca McKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked. She started by talking about the Arab Spring 2011 as an example of how social media can work to get news out to the world, but also how some really troubling revelations came to light as a result of regime change. Egypt was cited as an example of one of the dark sides of the Spring – activists stormed state security offices and found an astounding amount of surveillance data on individuals that had been transmitted to the government. It has become a common thing for foreign governments to be customers of US firms who provide this kind of technology. Ms. MacKinnon used Hewlett Packard as an example of just one company selling surveillance technology to China.
She then posed some interesting questions to our audience. Can technology really be a-political? Do those who produce technology have any moral responsibility to be neutral? She contends tt is the responsibility of government and companies to make sure this happens. Unfortunately, acts like SOPA threatened some of these rights. Intermediary liability was going to force sites like Wikipedia to potentially censor.
Some companies are actually trying for more transparency, including Google. How do we ensure our private information isn’t being abused by Government agencies. All telecommunications companies should have some sort of transparency policy. Only five companies have joined global network initiatives so far.
If we want the Internet to remain compatible with democracy, then we have to work for it. We need a movement in scope and depth of the environmental movement. We need to be stewards of cyberspace.
Certainly her talk provided all of us with lots of food for thought. It was a great way to kick off this conference!