Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . .  fund 'em, don't plunder 'em 

SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES:  Sign our new updated petition here:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also stay informed by following us on Twitter (@DefendLibraries) and by liking our Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page. And we post videos on our Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.
When We Started and Why

Citizens Defending Libraries was founded in February of 2013 in response to then breaking headlines about how, across the city, our public libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk at great public loss, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.  Citizens Defending Libraries was first to point out how the the real estate industry's interest in turning libraries into real estate deals was driving such sales and the reduction of funding and library resources.

Achievements

Citizens Defending Libraries has had a number of significant successes fending off and preventing library sale and shrinkages and there has been some progress towards restoration of the funding of libraries to a proper pre-library-sales plan level of proper funding.  These successes include: 
    •    The sale of Mid-Manhattan, the most used circulating library in Manhattan, was prevented with the help of two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was first in the list of named plaintiffs.  That sale was prevented as Citizens Defending Libraries joined with others to successfully derail the New York Public Library’s ill-conceived consolidating shrinkage of major Manhattan libraries known as the Central Library Plan.  Citizens Defending Libraries accurately predicted this sell-off and shrinkage of libraries was likely to cost over $500 million, far more than the $300 advertised by the NYPL as it promoted its real estate deals.  Unfortunately, work remains to be done as aspects of the Central Library Plan still ominously survive:
    •        The NYPL still plans to sell and close the largest science library in New York City, SIBL, the Science Industry and Business Library, eliminating its collection of science books just when they are needed most,
    •        Millions of additional books are still missing from and need to be brought back to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library at Fifth Avenue (yes that's the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude).
    •        The NYPL still plans to subject the Mid-Manhattan Library to a consolidating shrinkage with a concomitantly vast reduction in available books.
    •    The sale and closing of another beloved central destination in Manhattan, the 5-story Donnell Library is now widely understood to have been a mistake. Library administration officials now apologize acknowledging it was a significant mistake, but that is only so long as we keep reminding the public what was lost and how the library was sold for a pittance, while real estate industry insiders like Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner benefitted from this first “shrink-and-sink” deal by replacing it with luxury tower, a tiny underground and largely bookless library in its base.
    •    Working with others in the community, we have so far prevented the sale the Pacific Branch Library, the first Carnegie in Brooklyn, next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (now aka “Pacific Park”), which in 2013 the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) announced was one of its two highest priorities to sell as it launched a program of real estate deal sell-offs.
    •    For almost four years, from 2013 to 2017, we delayed and fended off the sale and destruction of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, which included the central Business Career and Education Library and a now shuttered Federal Depository Library making federal documents, records, and history available to the public.  This was another “shrink-and-sink” sale of property, also next to (and involving) Forest City Ratner property was the BPL’s other first announced highest priority.  Again, a luxury tower will stand where an important central destination library once stood.  Garnering over 2,000 testimonies from the community we surprised everybody by causing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to come out against the project after it was launched.  It was also reportedly the subject of a “play-to-play” investigation with respect to the development team that was an inferior bidder channeling funds to Mayor de Blasio.  That investigation appears to have been dropped immediately after Donald Trump stunned the public by firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
    •    We alerted the public and Red Hook community about “Spaceworks,” a real estate company formed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to shrink libraries viewing library space as being under utilized we helped to prevent the already woefully small 7,500 square foot Red Hook library from being shrunk down to just 5,500 square feet.  Brooklyn Community Board 6 helped kill the shrinkage.  (While we also worked to get the word out to the Williamsburg community about a proposed shrinkage there with Spaceworks being handed the second floor of the Williamsburg Library, we were not able to act fast enough and Councilman Steve Levin and Brooklyn Community Board 1 were supporting the scheme.)
     •    We alerted the Sunset Park community about long-secret plans to sell the Sunset Park Library and redevelop it into a mixed used project.  We believe that because we were on the scene to shine this spotlight, and also because the BPL wanted to overcome our opposition to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, Sunset park is the first time the BPL actually proposed to enlarge one of the the libraries it was targeting for sale.  That will be a sort of victory if there is no subsequent bait-and-switch.  Unfortunately, it is not a perfect victory.  Our sense is that for good and valid reasons the informed Sunset Park community was still largely, perhaps 90%, opposed to the library replacement plan they were not involved in developing and from which they will suffer while the library is closed for many years before it is replaced.  Unfortunately, those who were in place to fight for the Sunset Park community’s interests did not ultimately defend them.  That includes Brooklyn Community Board 7 and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries was also on the scene to shine a spotlight and help put things quickly in perspective for the Inwood Community when the NYPL announced it wanted to turn the Inwood Library into a real estate deal, likely also as a part of an effort to help push through a upzoning of the area.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries similarly sounded the alarm before word was out publicly about a proposal for a consolidating shrinkage of the Brower Park Library with the Prospect Heights Children’s Museum (reversing a previous expansion).
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries has been engaged in an education and publicity campaign.  It included:
     •        Forums, including a mayor forum during the 2013 election with most of the candidates endorsing our proposals that libraries be properly funded, not sold and shrunk.  Mayor de Blasio, whose position we changed during the campaign, joined with us in July to proclaim that our libraries should not be sold saying: “It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  Unfortunately, by October he was taking money from developers behind the curtain.
        •    As a result of our activism there have been hearings about the sale and shrinkage of libraries starting with a very important June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing that embarrassed city library administration officials. 
       •    A letter of support signed by multiple community organizations, electeds and candidates running for office.
        •   In May of 2016 Citizens Dfending Libraries was honored to be a recipient of the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Award.
Despite our battles won, our NYC libraries are still besieged by a major war and the threat of such plans.

What libraries are affected?
Library officials said early on that they wanted to sell the most valuable NYC libraries first.  And indeed, that is exactly what the NYPL did when its first move was to sell the central destination Donnell Library, a library that was documented to be on most valuable block in Manhattan at the time.  Similarly, the concurrently launched Central Library Plan with its proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library focused on the choicest real estate.  The BPL did the same thing prioritizing two prime site libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property for probable luxury towers, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch library.  Unfortunately, the libraries that are most valuable to real estate developers are also the most valuable to the public for very similar reasons, including central accessible locations.

The most valuable libraries may be at the top of this list, but all libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  All libraries are under siege because of the deliberate, unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary underfunding of NYC libraries that is being presented as an excuse to sell libraries affects all libraries in all our city's boroughs.

All libraries in the New York City system should also be considered currently under siege because each and every library sale becomes precedent and a model for the next.  The shrink-and-sink sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library replicates the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library (in fact it was conceived at the same time with the same people in the background).  Moreover, BPL president Linda Johnson told the City Council when it was approving the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library sale that it would be a model for future library deals by all three city library systems, the BPL, which she heads, the NYPL and the Queens Library.  Johnson has referred to herself as head of the Brooklyn Library system as having "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" at her disposal.

While Library officials are attracted to seizing for conversion the most valuable libraries first, they are also usually tactically coy about their plans. At this point they openly acknowledge going after only a few libraries at a time.  They go after the very valuable ones they want and they also go after the libraries where they believe they have ascertained that they can overcome community opposition and expect that they can, at the same time, perhaps achieve another objective that attracts them, like laying the groundwork for an upzoning in Inwood or establish and entrench a principle of reduction as with Spaceworks in Red Hook and Williamsburg.

For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"?

Although the people promoting library sales and elimination of books would like to use as an excuse that the world is going digital, that is not the case.  New York City libraries are more used than ever.  Although use was up 40% programmatically, most of the recent increased use is in terms of circulation, 59%, and almost all of that circulation is physical books.  That is despite an effort by NYC library administration officials to steer people into the use of digital books (which, maybe surprisingly, are actually more expensive for the libraries) and away from what they derisively refer to as "old-fashioned analogue books."

While digital books sometimes have some advantages the general population tends to prefer physical books.  Further, there are advantages with physical books related to the way people learn and think and there are problems and concerns about digital books that need to be considered.  See:  Physical Books vs. Digital Books.

At the same time, libraries do need to address digital needs and provide access to the internet; they need to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who don't.  For that reason libraries should actually be growing to address these expanded needs rather than shrinking.  In this regard it is, indefensible and inexplicable that two top-notch libraries with some of the most advanced and robust support of computer and internet libraries, SIBL the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library with its Business, Career and Education Library, were both targeted for simultaneous elimination.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For?

In the overall scheme of things, New York City libraries cost virtually nothing.  When it comes to libraries, no matter how you slice and dice it, we are dealing with total funding figures that come to fractions of a percentage point, this despite the fact that, economically, libraries more than pay for themselves, and: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”

Notwithstanding, subsidies to sports venues like the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena dwarf what we spend on libraries. In 8 years when we spent at least $620 million on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) that amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.

The underfunding of libraries is notwithstanding that libraries are one of the public's top priorities. The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services as their“third highest budget concern” and“Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”  In 2013 when the NYC Comptroller polled the public about its priorities for "The People's Budget" libraries were again one of the very top priorities.

Valuable in so many ways in their own right, libraries must also be considered an essential adjunct to schools and ensuring proper education and literacy of the population.  One thing that a recurring trope in science fiction scripts gets right is that there is a high correspondence, if not quite one-to-one correlation, between the demise of great libraries and the collapse of once great civilizations.

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

People ask whether the public is at least getting good deals or "value" when we sell our libraries.  We absolutely are not.  We are selling our libraries for far less than their worth and far less than we have invested in them.  The losses are actually profoundly embarrassing notwithstanding the proclivity of library officials to deceptively characterize proceeds from sales as "profits," and as "hefty" rather than "paltry."  That's been true since the beginning. . .

. . .  The first library sold, the Donnell Library, the central destination, 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

. . . The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern and up-to-date libraries in the system would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city sold it for less than its tear-down value, for less than its value as a vacant lot, and because it was sold to a developer who's inferior bid was not the highest bid, it's sale became the subject of one of the pay-to-play investigations of the de Blasio administration.  When costs are finally calculated it is likely the city and library administration officials will have netted less than $25 million from this library's ruination.

. . . In two suspicious real estate deals the NYPL has sold the 34th Street SIBL library, the city's biggest science library . . . . .

TO READ MORE- Click:  TO READ MORE- Click: Libraries Being Sold For Huge Losses And Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

Who Is Selling Our Libraries?

The plans to sell our libraries were announced under the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and it appears that they go back to at least 2005 and probably at least 2004.  Prior to the Bloomberg administration, NYC libraries were being expanded significantly under the Giuliani administration.  During the 2013 mayoral race, candidate Bill de Blasio said that the library sales should be halted, but in short order Mr. de Blasio was taking money from real estate developers "behind the curtain  . .very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Once in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued with the library sales he decried as a candidate, although, to give the devil his due, de Blasio did not proceed with the full-blown NYPL Central Library Plan.  While the Mid-Manhattan library is now being subjected to a consolidating shrinkage it is no longer being sold straight out, but, under Mayor de Blasio we are still selling SIBL the city's biggest science library.  We are also still exiling research books off premises from where they were once readily and quickly retrievable at the 42nd Street Library.


There are other elected officials that are avidly taking the lead pushing these city library sales.  Foremost among them is city council member Brad Lander.  Also clearly conspicuous in his enthusiastic and unrelenting support for these plans is Jimmy Van Bramer head of the City Council Cultural Committee of which the city council's library subcommittee is a sub-component he domainates in leading.  .  .

 . .  Each particular local city council member must also be held responsible for what happens to the libraries in their districts, but revelations are that many of them, like Councilman Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg libraries), Ydanis Rodriguez (Inwood Library) and Carlos Manchacca (Sunset Park Library), were brought on board behind the scenes in advance to  . . .

TO READ MORE (including about the involvement of a Trump presidential son-in-law, Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, the library boards of trustees, law enforcing officials standing idly by the sidelines and what are supposed to be charitable organizations serving the public) - Click:  WHO Is Selling Our Libraries?

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?
Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
As noted, although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
2007 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.
         •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced . . . .

TO READ MORE (a complete timeline of library sale events and maneuvers in 2007, 2008 and right through to to the formation of Citizens Defending Libraries) - Click: When Did Library Selling and Underfunding Begin?

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries


While most New Yorkers are attuned to the power and excesses of the city real estate industry and therefore easily understand its role as a key motivator in the assault on libraries, it's unfortunately naive to believe that only the real estate industry has an agenda that is adverse to the tradition of continuing libraries as the democratic commons we have known them to be.

This gets us into some other big questions. TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats

Control of Information

Does dumbing down the public make sense, is it truly workable if you want an effective democracy?  The availability and control of information, including in libraries as copious storehouses of information, has always long disconcerted authoritarians.  For instance, is it surprising to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy exercised his influence to ban from U.S. controlled libraries the music and scores of the "Fanfare For The Common Man" composer Aaron Copeland, because McCarthy believed  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats 
No doubt there are those for whom it would be preferable if information in libraries was tidily circumscribed so that it just slipstreams comfortably behind the limited thinking and reporting of the corporate conglomerate controlled national media.  That's a corporate media which among other things and by example underreports the climate change crisis, and  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
 While the tradition has been to protect and preserve the information entrusted to libraries, information on the internet can be startlingly evanescent, its continued existence subject to decisions made by whim or out of wrath about what the public should see. . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
The Internet And Digital as Business

As the world speeds into digital, it is important to recognize the pull and tugs of what the internet corporations would like, including reasons for wanting things to go digital.  There are reasons why, when just five or six (as of 2017) people control as much wealth as half of the rest of the world's population, that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon (and Washington Post) owner Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are three for them (with another Carlos Slim Helu incidentally, as part of his media holdings, being the largest shareholder of the New York Times.  Those reasons coincide with the reasons Apple, Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all vying (along with Exxon Mobile) for the spot as largest U.S. company.

 . . . Think where all this money comes from.  There is, of course, the ubiquitous advertising, as the pop-up ads that saturate far-flung corners of the internet will remind you, just as advertising saturates the monopolistically owned TV and radio airwaves.  There is also the data-scraping.  As the "old internet saw" was quoted when Google was wiring all of NYC's streets for wireless internet "for free": "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product."  What the private internet companies know about you helps target you . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats (or start by reading some of the snippets in different categories below.)
Privatized Political Advantage

Among those buying the data are political parties and their campaign operations looking to control the elected seats of government. Now with unprecedented insight into your preferences, those actors and operatives use the data to decide, with tools like gerrymandering, how much your vote should or should not be allowed to count.  With "voter preference files" that contain tens of thousands of "sets of data points" they have graduated from "microtargeting specific groups" to "nanotargeting" with different kinds of messages (whether true or not) designed elicit particular `emotional responses' from voters.  "Pay to sway" services supply a smorgasbord of  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Owning Ideas and Culture to Charge For Them

The content industry has its wants as well.  Its purveyors desire, for instance, to get the public out to the very latest movie you see touted on billboards, simultaneously on the sides of city buses, via the ads on Comedy Central and other channels, perhaps also boosted by a "sponsorship" mention on your local public radio station as it does featurette reporting . . . 
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
A Reduction to Dollar$ Sense

. . Traditional libraries have always stood as models opposite to the concept that everything in the world, plus everything that ought to be prioritized and perpetually pushed to the fore should exist in stripped-down monetizable dimensions.  To evaluate the world exclusively in the very limited terms of seeing things in terms of just numbers or only following the money is, in an of itself, impoverishing.  A 2015 report published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review studied how  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Surveillance

The last big subject to mention bears a relationship to the first topic.  When the government, whoever is in charge, isn't actually preventing citizens from reading certain books it might proscribe, it can, nevertheless, be interested in surveiling what books and information members of the public are reading.  In theory, this could allow the government to  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially  Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
 
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who  . . . .

TO READ MORE (about how the benefits of libraries are transmitted throughout society, the racial discrimination in selling libraries and divide and divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys) - Click: Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled?

How Many Books Are Disappearing?


Venturing into a library to witness scads of empty book shelves is a disorientating experience.  The empty shelves constitute early warning signs: Empty shelves at Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Grand Army Plaza Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library have meant that these libraries have been targeted to be involved in library sale and shrinkage plans.

It is stunning how many books have disappeared and become unavailable, multiple millions overall.  (Library administration officials have done their best to obscure true counts of the reductions.)  If the books disappear from targeted libraries far enough in advance library administration officials can deceptively promise that there will be as many books after the shrinkage of the library as before.  Another deception is for library officials to claim that if books are exiled to be consolidated elsewhere in a "deduping" center there will actually be "more" books as a result.  ("Deduping" is euphemism for book elimination, the idea being the more books you consolidate in a central location the more books you have that are "duplicates" to be eliminated.)

Amazingly, despite the increasing difficulty in obtaining books NYC book circulation is going up and circulation increases are mainly the physical books that patrons generally prefer.  The idea that because some books (not all- for instance, Robert Caro's "The Power Broker") are available digitally we no longer need libraries to supply physical books is a myth.  That library administration officials disparage physical books as "old-fashioned analogue books" or just "artifactual originals" or that those officials will spend more money to push people in to digital reading than what spending on physical books costs does not make that myth any more true.

When library officials solicit contributions from the general public they will jive about how they are asking for that money in order to buy more books because they know that is a vision the public will support and respond favorably to, but at the same time library officials are less than transparent about how they are actually removing books from library premises and from the system entirely.

For more information about how many millions of books have disappeared from which libraries . .

TO READ MORE- Click: How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

At first blush, many people have accepted what city development and library officials have regularly asserted about the deals launching this city-wide program of converting libraries into real estate deals (or, similarly, "redeveloping" our schools for that matter), that by "unlocking" library real estate development rights with multi-use developments it is a "win-win" proposition that benefits the libraries as well as the developers and real estate industry.

The offer of a free lunch is a tempting thing to hope for, but it doesn't bear scrutiny.  The math, when you do it, simply doesn't work out: It is expensive to tear down existing, frequently recently renovated libraries that the public has already invested substantially in.  When these development ideas are promoted the math goes from initial wishful fantasies, to deliberately obfuscated lack of transparency, to outright mendacious misrepresentation.  If library officials had insisted that the Donnell Library or the Brooklyn Heights Library be fully and completely replaced when they were sold (irrespective or their spaces being shoved underground), the sales would have to be calculated showing deep and obviously absurd public losses. . .

There is also the disruption that affects the public. And, although library and city officials try to skip over the point, when library assets are being divested, the libraries are, in the process, shedding their opportunities for future expansion and to keep pace as the city grows.

Moreover and probably most important, such multi-use development schemes force the libraries to "partner" with powerful private real estate interests that ultimately wind up in the drivers seat, setting the priorities with big checkbooks that bankroll false and misleading PR.  With the moneyed interests throwing their weight around, the public is exposed to bait-and-switch variations.  The Donnell Library sale deal that was described to the press and public when it was announced in no way resembled the deal that was consummated.

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property

Libraries are not our only public commons that are undemocratically under attack.  The attacks on libraries reflect a much wider scourge of plundering our public assets with the selling off and privatizing of schools, hospitals, public housing, parks, and even the privatization of our streets and sidewalks.  Accordingly, instead of just fighting the library fight, Citizens Defending Libraries (and you can join us) has reached out to other activists to hold a series of forums on the selling off of public assets and help engender and understanding of the commonalty of the threats and tactics an subterfuges we see.  For instance, as Noam Chomsky has explained one such "standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.". .  (In other words, when the door is open to privatization and sell-off there is an inducement to underfund.)  And then, with the transfer to private ownership, the result for public gets even worse.

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Want to know what lies to watch out for? . .

TO READ MORE- Click: The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Official Sell Libraries

(Read about: lies about public process * Lies about how to oppose a sale * Lies that "replacement" libraries will be as big or bigger *  Lies that libraries are too "dilapidated" to fix * The "same number of books" lie)

Where Does It Go From Here?  What Can You do?

One thing you can do is consider this a worthy cause and inform yourself and others about it.  Protection and preservation of our libraries is something that most people instantly and automatically understand.  As one member of our group observed early on: "If you can't stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?"  That's why we must stop them.. .

 . .  But also, because people do understand what it means to protect libraries, because they understand it in their very bones, the protection of libraries is an issue and a cause that can be used as a fulcrum to push back on the many other issues that relate to it, the impoverishing privatizations of public assets in general, abuses of the real estate industry, the corrupting influence of money in politics, inequality of power and wealth and the abuses of power by the wealthy. 

What Can We Do Next?

TO READ MORE- Click: How to Defend Our Libraries.

(Read about: Altering the law * Insisting on transparency * defending library buttons * Our Letter of Support * Our petition * Our mailing List * Testimony at public hearings *  Birddogging elected officials  *  Contacting the press *  Social media * Having us speak to yous community organization * Letters to the editor/comment on web articles * Research help * FOIL assistance * Singing the marvelous Judy Gorman library song )



The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The Petition Being Put Forth By Citizens Defending Libraries

The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
CONTACT: To contact Citizens Defending Libraries email MDDWhite (at) aol.com.

The archive of our previous web page (used into December 2017) can be found by clicking HERE.

Self Proclaimed As Fighting Surveillance, Library Freedom Project Is Tied to Tor Service With Its Deep Ongoing Connections, Including Financing, To The U.S. Government

Two WNYC On The Media segments, both about surveillance, clash because of what connects them: What you might learn from each of them about the relationship of the Tor Service to our federal government and its surveillance efforts.  For libraries this means. . . keep reading.
We first heard about the Library Freedom Project on what we thought was an excellent WNYC On The Media segment about United States government surveillance of patrons in American libraries aired on June 5, 2015: Librarians Vs. The Patriot Act.  Our library defending interest was already piqued and attuned to the issue.  The On the Media segment aired just a few months after a National Notice article about surveillance in libraries: Snowden Revelations Considered: Is Your Library, Once Intended To Be A Protected Haven of Privacy, Spying on You?

In that On The Media segment an interview with Alison Macrina was used to supply and put much of the information in context and it informed us that Ms. Macrina is the founder of the Library Freedom Project, and that with “help from the Knight Foundation, she and an ACLU attorney have created workshops on how to maintain privacy online.” 

The Library Freedom Project Twitter page (with a crossed-out surveillance eye symbol as its logo) promises that “We fight for privacy rights” and that the Library Freedom Project is:
Fighting for intellectual freedom and against authoritarianism. Coming to a library near you.
On the Library Freedom Project website we learn more about Alison Macrina and her connection to the Tor Project (emphasis supplied):
Alison Macrina
Founder & Executive Director

Along with founding the Library Freedom Project, Alison is a librarian, internet activist, and a core contributor to The Tor Project. Passionate about surveillance and it’s connection to global injustice, Alison works to demystify privacy and security topics for ordinary users.
On the Library Freedom Project “Resources” page (which includes a tweeted compliment from Edward Snowden) their website has more about TOR touting it as "beneficial to libraries":
All About Tor

What is Tor, and why is it beneficial to libraries? How does it work? How can it help my library patrons? In this course, we discuss the need for anonymous browsing, give a crash course on using Tor, and walk librarians through the process of adding it to their library labs.
That links to a “Curriculum for teaching all about Tor” page including a link to download Tor.

On another page of the site the Library Freedom Project announces “We are excited to partner with The Tor Project to bring Tor exit relays into libraries!”  What this means is a little complicated, but it means using the libraries to help Tor.  In fact, it's interesting how much of the Library Freedom Project website involves efforts to make Tor available and get it used.

What is all this about “Tor”?  Does Tor provide privacy?. . .

. . . If you listened to another relatively recent On The Media segment (May 25, 2018), this time about Yasha Levine’s book “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet,” you learn that Tor does NOT provide privacy as advertised and that it is heavily funded by the United States government, thus raising questions about what the government is accomplishing through that funding.
Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet.”
Here is some of the transcript of Yasha Levine being interviewed by OTM's Bob Garfield:
    YASHA LEVINE: So the Tor browser, it’s a separate browser that you download and that you use, and it promises to protect your anonymity on the internet. So the websites that you go to don't know who you are. . . .

    BOB GARFIELD: So that’s great. These apps have delivered us from the prying eyes of the state, whether it's the Iranian state or the US government. We can navigate around the net without fear because these civilian heroes have given us the tools to do so.

    YASHA LEVINE: Except not. [LAUGHS] And one thing that I outline in my book is just how dependent both Signal and Tor are on government contracts. So Tor, anywhere from 90 to 98 percent of its budget depends on government contracts. . . .. And the origins of Tor are very interesting. The origins of Tor are not to protect human rights, are not to protect dissidents in Iran or China. Tor originated in a US Naval laboratory as a way of protecting spies from surveillance. So imagine if you're conducting an investigation for the FBI and you’re trying to infiltrate, let’s say, an animal rights group on the internet, if you are sitting in an FBI office and you go and register with this forum, the administrator will see your IP address and, if they take the time to trace that, they’ll be like, wait a second, this guy is the Fed. And so, you needed a technology that could hide your information. But the problem was if it's only American agents using this system, it defeats its purpose because it’s like, oh, they’re using Tor, another Fed. So the only way that that system could work was if it's used by as broad a range of people as possible.

    BOB GARFIELD: Aha, make it ubiquitous so that we’re not dimed out by the very fact of being on the platform.

    YASHA LEVINE: Exactly. And that’s what Tor has become. . . .  And to me, what’s interesting about the Tor project is that it shows that the military is so involved in every part of the network that it even controls and develops parts of the network that are supposed to be opposed to it.

    BOB GARFIELD: But that doesn't necessarily mean the government has backdoors to subvert the encryption or the IP address masking, does it?

    YASHA LEVINE: No, not necessarily. . . .
Citizens Defending Libraries just put up an article about Levine’s book: Reading on the Internet vs. Reading a Book You Picked Up Browsing In Your Library: Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet.”  There we described how Levine, pointing out the oddity of the connection between Tor and the federal government, went into the likelihood of (not very necessary) government backdoors to allow the Tor service to surveil its users, and how TOR may serve “as a `honeypot’ to attract and concentrate more accessibly for evaluation all the communicators who really do want hide significant things from the U.S. government.”

On his own website Yasha Levine wrote about his OTM interview
Yasha Levine himself wrote more about his On The Media interview (quoting from it) and specifically about Tor.
        "My problem with tools like Tor and Signal is that they distract from a bigger problem that exists on the Internet. It is in Google's interest. It is in Facebook's interest to promote Tor and to promote Signal. Because these tools do no threaten their business models. When you use Tor and you log into your Google account or if you log into your Facebook account, Tor does not protect you. Google knows who you are. You just logged into their service. Facebook knows who you are. You just logged into their service. Tor does not protect you from surveillance that happens on the Internet as a matter of routine. It does not protect you from Facebook giving away or selling your data like we've seen with Cambridge Analytica. These tools give people a false sense of privacy. And we don't have any privacy."

        "Tor narrowly protects you when you're browsing the internet, and it's sometimes useful. Signal protects a narrow band of communication — your text messages. It does not protect anything else that happens on your Android phone that siphons up everything it can collect and sends it to Google. What can you do if you want to protect yourself from Google? There is nothing you can do."

        "The NSA does not run its own social media platform. That social media platform is run by Facebook. So we have to focus not just on government surveillance, but on the private telecommunication systems and platforms that make that surveillance possible. And so as a privacy movement, we have to move away from simplistic technological solutions and figure out political solutions because that's the only way we are going to guarantee our privacy."
As our previous post about Mr. Levine’s book noted, his book never mentions by name the concept of a “limited hangout” by the intelligence agencies, but he supplies enough information about people involved with promoting Tor to give cause to wonder who those people may actually be working for when they promote Tor or, alternatively, whether they know they are being used by the Big Brother forces they say they are providing protection against.  In this regard, Levine provides intriguing background stories and details about Jacob Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden (all of whom are also connected one way or another to Julian Assange).

Whether or not some people might be working as agents of the federal government and intelligence community or are simply being used as tools by them while they, duped, in good faith believe in the benefits of Tor, if Yasha Levine’s various suspicions about Tor are valid, as it appears that they almost certainly are, then it is important to bell this cat for the otherwise unwary.

In June of 2015, right after the On The Media segment featuring them, we contacted the Library Freedom Project and wound up exchanging emails with Alison Macrina because we wanted to exchange information and dig deeper into the subject of library surveillance in general.  We didn’t actually talk with Ms. Macrina, because Ms. Macrina wanted communications to be by email.  Although there were over a dozen emails exchanged back and forth between us the information exchanged was mostly an outflow of what we sent the Library Freedom Project.  We also worked to engage with them via Twitter.

When we sent Ms. Macrina the National Notice article (by Michael D. D. White) about the Snowden revelations and surveillance in the libraries saying that we were interested in “what is  happening in New York City libraries, and why it may be happening” and what besides real estate deals may “also factor into driving what is happening as books are disappearing from our libraries” Ms. Macrina responded that she was “in agreement about all this stuff of course.”   Despite all our ensuing emails we really never got deeper into things than that.

Maybe Ms. Macrina didn’t view our Citizens Defending Libraries interests as truly extending to the same concerns about surveillance the Library Freedom Project said it was addressing, instead of expecting that we'd only take issue with library sell-offs, library contractions and the elimination of books.  (As our post about Yasha Levine’s book makes clear, those contractions and elimination of books are definitely interrelated with surveillance concerns.)

Talking about the way Citizens Defending Libraries addressed and wanted to prevent “closures” Ms. Macrina referred us to Urban Librarians Unite as being similarly interested, but while we said that we didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her, we had to explain that Urban Librarians Unite did not want to ally with us to protect the public and that, running into problems with them from the start, we found them consistently on the other side, testifying in favor of the library sales and shrinkages, and promoting keeping library books off-site (actually a surveillance issue itself).  Ms. Macrina communicated that library “closures” was not an “arena” the Library Freedom Project was working in.
Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries
Since our 2015 communications with the Library Freedom Project, however unproductive they may have been, we have not heard from them again although we ourselves have substantially added to the information we have been passing along to the rest of the world about library surveillance, setting up a dedicated page of links about it (Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries), and, among other things, furnishing information from an October 2016 Noticing New York article based on information from the minutes of NYPL trustee meetings:  Snowden, Booz and the Dismantling of Libraries As We Know Them: Why Was A Private Government Spy Agency Hired to Take Apart New York's Most Important Libraries And Turn Them Into Something Else?

We think it suffices to say that there are issues about surveillance in our libraries that need to be pursued much more deeply than they have been and that there are too many unanswered and unpursued questions relating to surveillance in our libraries and why certain things that are happening to our libraries are happening.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reading on the Internet vs. Reading a Book You Picked Up Browsing In Your Library: Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet”

You go into a library, a big public building, around you are tables and desks where other patrons similarly drawn to the offerings of the library read and turn pages.  Venturing into the stacks, you see the shoulders and bent necks of other people pulling books off the shelf, reading an index or table of contents, or perhaps their fingers running over the back of book spines naming authors, stating titles and showing the Dewey Decimal numbers that group books of similar content and concerns together. Somewhere, not far out of eyesight, is a desk with one or more librarians who can help and answer questions if you ask. Maybe one trundles through to squeeze past you to replace some of the books to the stacks.  The environment may be hushed and quiet, but it doesn’t seem entirely private.  It might even seem that there is a social aspect to this commons you are occupying.  There is the possibility that, seeing the title you might ask your neighbor, “Good book?”, and in return get an entirely unexpected answer teaching you are amazed to have learned.

By contrast, finding yourself at home reading an article on the Internet in that corner where sun doesn’t come in to glare on your computer screen may seem like a far more private experience. . . .  But is it?

Yasha Levine's book “Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet,” which came out in February is a stern reminder of a fact that gets regularly overlooked and/or forgotten: Reading on the Internet is a very unprivate experience.  In other words, as he explains, the history of the Internet, from its very inception, is intimately intertwined with surveillance and the military. .

Fire up your browser to interface with the Internet and it can track you (your browser probably recently offered to have all your devices share the information it can collect about your browsing habits).  Tell your search engine like Google what you want to look at and it will collect that data from you along with what you actually wanted to click to open from amongst the links its presented.  Along the way, some advertisers will be clued in about what ways you may be a good target for various things.  The websites you land on will also likely try to advertise to you and may know a lot about you even before you get there.   If you are reading an ebook, the publisher may be paying attention to whether you are reading certain parts of it fast or slow, what you want to bookmark and what statements in the book you are researching as you go along.  They may be paying attention to where you are, what your reading habits are time-of-daywise.  Send your friend a few thoughts about what you just read via Gmail and Google will read that email.  And that phone in your pocket that is a powerful little computer? It knows your voice, by default might be listening for it now, recognizes your face; keeps track of where you are reporting that information to the provdiers of various apps. . . .What about your Internet provider or providers?: What are they keeping track of with respect to you?  Who sold you your computer?; What are they keeping track of in terms of your use of it?. . . . And we haven’t even brought up what is formally called “spyware” or deemed “malicious.”
In other words, even if curling up in an easy chair with your laptop in an empty apartment seems like a solitary experience in which you alone are participating, it is really quite the opposite.
Here, via our YouTube channel, is a quick overview about what Yasha Levine's book is about, delivered in the creepiest possible way by Amazon’s Alexa.  
   

    Alexa Explains Surveillance Valley (+ Siri on Alexa) (click through to YouTube for best viewing)

    Amazon's Alexa is happy to describe "Surveillance Valley," Yasha Levine's new book about how surveillance and the military history are baked into the DNA of the Internet including the partnerships between big Internet companies (like Amazon, Google and Facebook) and the military.  Siri also has some things to say about Alexa.
Your first instinct might be to console yourself by telling yourself that all the many companies tracking you as you read are private companies, not the government, and that no matter how much of a nuisance it is that you are being followed by advertisements omniscient about what you last shopped for, their only goal is to help and make life more convenient by anticipating your every next thought before it even pops into your head. . .

. . . But that would be to ignore the Edward Snowden revelations that the flow of information through all the major Internet companies has been tapped into by the U.S. Government.  Further, as Yasha Levine documents extensively in his book, these big Internet companies with surveillance and data collection at the core of so much of their basic purpose, are integrally connected with the government including through all sorts of partnerships.  Mr. Levine also has some scary observations about why hopes for privacy seemingly offered by Edward Snowden are likely just pitfalls instead.

Although those doing this vast amount of surveillance would like to hope that the public makes a distinction between government surveillance and the surveillance done by private corporations and thus consider the situation somehow more benign, Levine makes clear that it is increasingly a distinction with no real difference flowing from the implications attached.  (One thing that Levine’s book does not mention is that the law does make some technical distinctions in this regard, the result of which is that the government can probably more easily do surveillance if it is the outcome of partnerships with the private sector.  One reason partnerships are often in play is because the Internet, something the government created, was privatized through actions undertaken without fanfare in the mid 1980's a convoluted chapter of the overall story Levine tells.)  Levine does not write about whether the intelligence agencies have actually involved themselves in picking the winners and losers in the silicone valley races, which firms will step up to become the Internet giants, but with firms like In-Q-Tel scouting for Internet firms and investing in them since before 9/11 that is not a far-fetched proposition.      

This is from Mr. Levine's prologue to his book:
Google is one of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world, yet it presents itself as one of the good guys: a company on a mission to make the world a better place and a bulwark against corrupt and intrusive government‘s power around the globe. And yet, as I traced the story and dug into the details of Google's government contracting business, I discovered that the company was already a full-fledged military contractor, selling versions of its consumer data mining and analysis technology to police departments, city governments and just about every other US intelligence and military agency.  Over the years it had supplied mapping technology used by the US Army in Iraq, hosted data for the Central intelligence agency, indexed the National Security Agency's vast intelligence databases, built a military robots, colauched a spy satellite with the Pentagon, and leased its cloud computing platform to help police departments predict crime. And Google is not alone. From Amazon to eBay to Facebook – – –
Levine over and over again makes clear how little the difference is between the surveillance tactics of the private Internet firms the government.  At page 164 he writes about Google’s content extraction and collection of data culled from the emails of those using its “free” gmail service (introduced in 2004) and concerns of UC Berkley law professor Chris Hoffnagle who noted its similarity to the “Total Information Awareness” program of President Reagan’s national security advisor John Poindexter. 
Concerns about Google‘s business model would continue to haunt the company. Time proved Hoffnagle right. There wasn’t very much difference between Google‘s approach and the surveillance technology deployed by the NSA, CIA, and Pentagon. Indeed, sometimes they were identical.
Levine notes how the military surveillance programs hailed back to the Vietnam War and efforts then to anticipate and thereby control the direction the populace of the country would go in.  Not to split any hairs, the goal was that the country should not head off in any communist directions.  When transplanted back and used with respect to the populace of the United States such programs also had incorporated built-in notions of the political directions in which the citizens of this country should not be allowed to head.  Levine writes that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering a speech after the Detroit riots of 1967 was viewed in military terms as a “counterinsurgency.”  Levine notes that the secret CONUS Intel program, exposed in early 1970 that involved thousands of undercover agents spying on United States Citizens, seemed to focus primarily on the Left, “anyone perceived to be sympathetic to the cause of economic and social justice.”  This is not to say that the program didn’t have or utilize its capacity to spy on the John Birch Society (now essentially morphed into the Koch network) at the other end of the polical spectrum.

Levine writes (at Page 76) about the CONUS program:
They infiltrated domestic antiwar political groups movements, spied on left-wing activists, and filed reports in a centralized intelligence database on millions of Americans. “When this program began in the summer of 1965, its purpose was to provide early warning of civil disorders which the army might be called upon to quell in the summer of 1967,” reported [Christopher] Pyle [in his exposé in the Washington Monthly]. “Today, the army maintenance files on the membership, ideology, programs, and practices of virtually every political group in the country.”
On page 85 Levine writes about the investigation of CONUS Intel led by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina in a series of 1971 hearings:
    . . . His committee established that the US Army had amassed a powerful domestic intelligence presence and had “developed a massive system for monitoring virtually all political protest in the United States.” There were over 300 regional “record centers” nationwide, with many containing more than 100,000 cards on “personalities of interest”

    * * *

    . . . the army referred to activists and protesters as if they were organized enemy combatants embedded with the indigenous population.

    * * *

    “The hypothesis the revolutionary groups might be behind the civil rights and antiwar movement became a presumption which affected the entire operation,” explained senator Irving and a final report…
What happened then, as reported by Levine is even more of a revelation.  In light of the public outrage resulting from Ervin’s hearings:
The arm promised to destroy the surveillance files, but the Senate could not obtain definitive proof that the files were ever fully expunged.  On the contrary, evidence mounted that the Army had deliberately hidden and continued to use the surveillance data it collected.
Those files were, as Levine recounts, fed into database that was that was at the core of the early Internet.

Levine has something in common with some others who have worked to lift the veil about the unrecognized level of surveillance and inelegance gathering by the United States: At one point, like some others, Levine's book takes on a personally harrowing caste as Levine receives death threats and worries about his safety and that of his family.  Those threats, as we will get to in a moment, came after he started to promulgate information about how perhaps everything people thought they knew about obtainable level of privacy after the Snowden revelations were not what most people informing themselves about these subjects thought they knew.

At the very beginning of his book talking about the military efforts to control the population of Vietnam, Levine mentions the fairly notorious Pheonix program giving an estimate that under that program some forty thousand to eighty thousand Vietnamese were assassinated to neutralize their potential or suspected influence in their society. Acknowledged by the CIA, the CIA officially puts the number of such assassinations at just twenty thousand.

It is one thing that Levine could have gone into in greater depth, but in the age of Internet surveillance and control, such "wet" assassinations become far less necessary.  Like in "The Matrix" it is enough to neutralize a person's cyber identity.  As our venturing forth to interact in public spheres is increasingly in the form of our digital cyber selves, whether we disclose our real identities as we do so, or cloak ourselves theorizing that pseudonyms can be effective, and as we increasingly see others through the digital goggles of services like Google, it is enough that our digital world avatars are neutralized when they threaten the powers that be.  

Laura K. Donohue is a Professor of Law at Georgetown Law, Director of Georgetown's Center on National Security and the Law, and Director of the Center on Privacy and Technology who writes on constitutional law, legal history, emerging technologies, and national security law has spoken about how in the cyberworld of social networks where everything is virtual, individuals whose growing influence is threatening to the security state can readily be readily identified (all the social network programs these days automatically count followers these days, what could be easier- plus they have other tools).  Then their virtual cyberworld existences can neutralized by various means such as isolating them or interfering with or interrupting their communication network to suppress their message.  See: Meta-Irony Of Trying To Mount A Social Network Campaign To Get People To See Oliver Stone’s Movie “Snowden” and To Pardon Snowden- How Efforts To Help Snowden Could Be Impeded, Monday, October 31, 2016.

In other words, who actually saw the Facebook post of this individual?  Are their Twitter posts escaping attention?  Do their Internet posts disappear into the rarely explored nether regions on page 5 or 10 of Google searches?  If the monitored tribe of followers of such individuals is very small, perhaps they are not even a threat, but possible a help as they draw off and help further fractionalize the communication and coordination of an opposition that might otherwise congeal into something fiercer and of more concern.

Maybe these individuals of influence don't need to be neutralized at all.  And maybe with the kind of Internet monitoring being done today, the anticipating and steering of society doesn't have to be thought of any longer as individuals at all: Such individuals can be thought of as just as components of overall trends that can be countered by launching countervailing counter-narratives, or distractions that will sidetrack the potentially influenced segments of society.  Perhaps it is enough that the political candidates supported by such individuals never win (or are consistently co-opted after election) so that their energy deflates with a Sisyphean string of constant defeats.  On the other hand, to say that more and more frequent monitoring may be used to control the flocking behavior our populace in terms of what may be trending, is not to say that nano-targeting of voters on an individual basis won't be a tactic to control the outcome of elections and engineer those defeats.

Something to think about: If the most important thing is for the surveillance state to be monitoring the flocking trends of followers, not leaders, then, although you may not consider yourself a leader with dangerous ideas that they may care about ( nothing that you need care about keeping private), they have as much interest or more in getting an accurate garage of what you as  a follower may be thinking as any leader.  That way they can work to swing trends the other way when they need to.  Which is to say that ideas are not, in and of themselves dangerous: Ideas are only a threat if they take hold.  And in terms of the main centers of power, the mainstream media of this country is pretty innocuous in terms of the ideas it passes along that might threaten those centers.

In Ms. Donohue's estimation, monitoring Internet social network activity is not the best tool for dealing with small secretive terrorist cells, but effective to stymie trends in political opposition:
If you are looking at a social network, the denser that network is the more you can tell about it, but in a cell structure where they are communicating very rarely and you are dealing with peripheries it's very hard to tell where those important nodes are in a sparsely populated communication network.

So, ironically, it turns out to be an incredibly powerful tool to head off potential social, economic, political opposition and not as an effective way to head off concerted terrorist cell structure activity.
The concerns for Levine's life and the safety of his family due to what was angrily posted openly on the Internet was in response to what Levine was researching revealing about the Tor service, and how Tor likely did not provide the secure unsurveilled channels for communication and accessing information through the Internet that it was supposed to.  Why?: Because Tor had deep ongoing ties, including financing to the U.S. government.  (Tor was nominally nonprofit and independent of the government.) And yet it was being embraced as a privacy app by privacy community advocates.  A Tor logo sticker was prominently visible on Edward Snowden's laptop in photographs of him meeting with reporters to leak information about the almost incomprehensible extent of the surveillance by the United States government, including its own citizens, including surveillance that was illegal, and inclining  surveillance that Congress had been told was not going on.

Levine concluded that the personal attacks and threats against him were to fend off his message about Tor, that expressions of personal animosity against him were just a distraction from the main issue.  While Levine analyzed that Tor could perhaps provide some privacy, to use it effectively would require great technical acumen and assiduous care to avoid all the other ways that a communication could be intercepted in various steps along the way.  Even then, the U.S. government would likely have a back door to it.  This is not to say that Tor would not have uses.  It would be useful to U.S. intelligence agency spies themselves, but only if they could disappear into a cloud of other users.  It would also be useful to activists in other countries battling to change or overthrow their governments so long as  the U.S. government did not share its own intelligence with those other governments unable to crack through Tor.  Levine also posits Tor as a "honeypot" to attract and concentrate more accessibly for evaluation all the communicators who really do want hide significant things from the U.S. government.

Levine never uses the term "limited hangout" anywhere in his book. A "limited hangout" is where the intelligence community releases true but partial (or potentially distorted) information intending it to be misleading or relied upon by its recipients in a way that manipulates them into wrong conclusions or actions that are not in their interest.  Levine does write about an  interesting, flamboyant young man who was one of Tor's principal promoters at hacking and privacy conferences around the globe, an encryption and security software developer, by the name of Jacob Appelbaum.

Appelbuam made appearances in two of reporter Laura Poitras' documentaries, her Oscar winning "Citizen Four" about Edward Snowden coming forward with his leaks through the journalists he met with in Hong Kong, including Poitras, and her later released documentary, "Risk" about time Poitras spent with Julliane Assange.  Poitras' documentaries make clear how Appelbuam gained the trust of both Snowden and Assange.  As you can learn from "Risk" and as Levine writes about, Poitras, a journalist trusted by the privacy community also became close enough to Appelbuam to have an affair with him.

Appelbaum in "Citizen Four" about Edward Snowden
Based on the portrait and information about Appelbaum in Levine's book there is an obvious question as to whether Appelbaum was working for the intelligence agencies as part of a limited hangout when he was promoting Tor.  Being careful, questions must also be asked about the ties he was able to make with Snowden and Poitras and his befriending of Assange.

Another possible limited hangout?: On page 222 of Levine's book he describes how one day he arrived home to find a heavy brown box sitting on his doorstep.  It was an answer to a freedom of information act request he had filed and it documented with further information and details much of what he'd been saying about the connections between Tor and the federal government. Should it have been that easy for him to get the information he was requesting, and, if not, why was the information, now public through his book, furnished to him as it was?

Near its end, Levine concludes his book with the following finishing his observations (at page 269):
Now Internet billionaires like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg slam government surveillance, talk up freedom, and embrace Snowden and crypto privacy culture, their companies still cut deals with the Pentagon, work with the NSA and CIA, you continue to track and profile people for profit. It is the same old split screen marketing trick: the public branding in the behind the scenes reality
Internet Freedom is a win-win for everyone involved – everyone except regular users, who trust their privacy to double-dealing military contractors, while powerful Surveillance Valley corporations continue to build out the old military cybernetic dream of a world where everyone else watched, predicted, and controlled.
Now think back about that depiction of a visit to the traditional library set forth at the beginning of this discussion-  Reading in the traditional library was a comparative private experience with no such tracking.  You could have access to all sorts of books, books you never thought about or even knew existed before you got to the library and no one would be taking note of any trends that you and the other library users were setting in terms of the books you were plucking from the shelves.

These days, traditional libraries are under siege: Citizens Defending Libraries was formed in response to the across-the-board plans New York City is implementing to sell and shrink libraries, eliminate books and libraries, typically with real estate schemes helping fuel their fast pace.  Meanwhile, the library space that remains in the city system or which is being substituted for what is sold off is becoming, akin to Internet reading, more susceptible to surveillance with books being  kept off the library premises and needing to be requested by computer Internet request, probably searched for and asked for in advance.  The library systems are also seeking to induce patrons to increasingly use digital books that are more expensive for the library.  Or the net result may simply be that library patrons are simply encouraged to do more of their reading on the Internet, perhaps even while at the library.  More about the difference between digital books and physical books, and more about surveillance in the libraries here: Physical Books vs. Digital Books, Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries, and It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries: Examining The Panoply of Other Threats

If you watched our video of Alexa explaining what the book "Surveillance Valley" is about then you learned at the end that Alexa is named after the Library of Alexandria, by reputation the greatest library of all time, a repository of the world's knowledge in an ancient time.  Alexa may also store a vast amount of information, but Alexa was not set up to collect the world's information in books, Alexa was a company that was set up by Amazon to collect information about us, information that in previous times, before the Internet, was largely private.