Interview with Alison Macrina (@flexlibris)

Flickr Mike Mozart (CC BY-2.0)

Flickr Mike Mozart (CC BY-2.0),

As we enter the “information sciences,” LIS students cannot help but be on the front lines of recent important debates in digital privacy. While digital privacy issues have simmered below the surface long since the explosion of the internet, it has most recently become a hotly contested issue surrounding the NSA spying program and the whistleblowing efforts of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. For today’s post, I reached out to Alison Macrina director of the Library Freedom Project. Alison, a 2015 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, was featured in a front page article in The Nation two weeks ago []. I asked Alison some questions about the project and what LIS students can do to stay informed and safe.

For more information follow Alison Macrina @flexlibris as well as at

1.            Tells us a little bit about the project and what all’s
been going on in the last little bit?

The Library Freedom Project aims to preserve the public commons and
fight for our digital privacy rights in an age of mass surveillance. We
do this by teaching librarians and their local communities about the
surveillance state, privacy rights and law, and technology that can be
used to prevent surveillance and protect intellectual freedom. We were
one of the winners of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on
Libraries earlier this year
(, and now we get to
travel to libraries all over the country teaching them how to fight the
surveillance state. It rules.

The Library Freedom Project is essentially me, Alison Macrina, former IT
librarian in public libraries, now full-time LFP H.B.I.C., with help
from April Glaser, former EFF activist. My main institutional partner is
the ACLU of Massachusetts, notably Kade Crockford (,
@onekade), an activist and researcher who runs the Technology For
Liberty Project. We’re often joined by Jessie Rossman, attorney at the
ACLUm and surveillance law expert. In other states, the local ACLU
affiliate often comes with us and does the privacy rights training. Our
schedule is pretty hectic at the moment; librarians love privacy, and we
can barely keep up with the demand! So I’ve been traveling nonstop and
bringing the ACLU with me to a bunch of libraries. We were recently
profiled in a cover story in The Nation
(, and that’s
been giving us a lot of good buzz. Also, we’re hard at work planning
Digital Rights in Libraries, a special (and free!) event after ALA
Annual this June: (please
come if you’re gonna be at ALA!). I also work with the Tor Project
( on promoting their strong encryption tools and
assisting with usability. Sometimes I work with the Electronic Frontier
Foundation ( on campaigns; we just did some stuff together on
Let’s Encrypt, HTTPS Everywhere, and the importance of using HTTPS on
library websites.

2.            How did you get started on privacy issues in libraries?
Was this always your issue or did something spark it?

Like a lot of people, the Snowden revelations in June 2013 really got me
thinking about the threats of surveillance. I’d followed stories about
other NSA whistleblowers (Bill Binney, Thomas Drake), Bush’s warrantless
wiretapping program, and of course the USA PATRIOT Act, but the Snowden
stuff made me think differently about the scale of the problem. Since
intellectual freedom can’t truly exist without privacy, I saw this as a
major threat the mission of libraries. Plus, we provide computer
terminals and internet access at a scale that no one else does, and to
members of the community who might not have access otherwise. I started
teaching computer privacy classes at my library, and I worked with
members of Radical Reference to create a zine about digital privacy to
hand out at library conferences. The success of both of those made me
decide to create a full training workshop with the ACLU, and we started
teaching it around Massachusetts. That became popular too, so we applied
for the Knight Foundation grant and won.

3.            What actions can Library students take to ensure their
data is safe?
This is a giant question. The first step is determining your threat
model: I
recommend starting with a few simple tools, replacing some of your
proprietary services with free and open source software that respects
your privacy. I have a list of tools on my website that I use in my
trainings: Download
a few of them, get comfortable using them, and then try something a bit
harder, and remember that security is a continual process. It’s best to
start with endpoint security — make sure you have a strong passphrase
and antivirus and antimalware clients (if your OS needs it). Tor Browser
( is the best, most sophisticated out-of-the-box tool;
try downloading it and using it as your main browser — you can have
Firefox as a backup if you get stuck. Read the docs, and you’ll really
learn how the network works and how to use the browser most effectively:

4.            What advice do you have for library students who are
burgeoning “radicals” in the field, and would like to be involved in
digital privacy movements and other such activisms?

Get involved with other radical librarians; start your own Radical
Reference chapter or join one. Some of this tech stuff is hard, and it’s
easier to work through it together. Host a Cryptoparty
( or work with whoever throws them in your
area. Use the encryption tools, and you’ll get comfortable with them
before you know it. Get in touch with your local ACLU and see if they’ll
do librarian-focused privacy rights training at your school. The ACLU of
Massachusetts made this for MA librarians and you can ask your ACLU to
use it as a training template: Join the
Electronic Frontier Foundation. Get on IRC and follow the work of the
Tor Project in their channels (#tor, #tor-project) and ask questions if
you need help using their tools. Ask your professors to cover privacy in
your library school classes, especially if it’s an IT class. You can
also contact me ( if you want me to
throw a workshop at your school, or if you have a question about using
any of the technology. Pressure your friends to use crypto tools too.
The more of us using these technologies, the better our chances are at
resisting the surveillance state.

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