Editorial: Living in a global panopticon

My title is a provocating one, but unfortunately not false. During my period of chair of FAIFE I have witnessed the monitoring of personal access to information decline in a way that no one could have believed a decade ago.

The global monitoring of information has a long history. In the so-called classical era of censorship it was easy to cut the publishing chain from the author to the reader in many ways. When regimes change libraries are first to be cleaned and books burned.

Very few people have cared for the history of ECHELON that is a name used in global media and in popular culture to describe a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states. The most recent is Utah Data Center in USA that collects all the information transmitted in the US media, including your private calls and mails. What they cannot collect, they buy from the airline companies and hotel chains. China, naturally being the ultimate panopticon, controlling 450 million net users in a closed intranet. Their private net millionaires, ‘interne’ cafés etc. seem to satisfy the Chinese users, or not…

Today we have a strange technological infra upon us. We all breathe with the lungs of Google. We have to give our data to suspicious companies that hardly think to use that to our benefit. They actually sell our souls at the next corner without asking. No one knows in how many databases we are registered, 500? 1000? 2000?

The map of the world is still quite gloomy as well. In the Nordic countries we are still living on the glass veranda of the world and seem to think this is the status elsewhere as well. Not really.

At IFLA we discussed the death of the internet. Professor Theo Bothma pointed out that it has hardly come alive in most parts of the world like Africa. Researcher Päivikki Karhula pointed out that there is a new ubiquitous infra around us we should be more aware of.

Are these library issues at all? Yes, they are. Libraries are in the front line to promote the rights of their users. Actually they have a wider mission, defending digital citizenry. Libraries are not for books, they are there for their customers. Mediating the access to information that should to be free.

Director of The National Library of Finland