Memorial Hall Library

Your Privacy and Confidentiality on Our Public Computers

In the networked, electronic world we live in, we are all rightfully concerned about our personal privacy and the confidentiality of our personal information. It is difficult to maintain our privacy even at home on our personal computers. It is even harder for us to help you maintain your privacy when you use our shared, public computers. Our job is to adapt what is usually a private instrument, the personal computer, to a public setting. In doing so, we have to make certain compromises between the needs of individual users for privacy, and the needs of all our users to safely access a broad range of electronic information services.

As you use our computers in the library, it is best to keep in mind at all times that complete privacy is not a realistic expectation. However, we do try to protect your privacy to the maximum extent possible, given the fact that our computers are shared. The privacy implications of using our public computers are explained below. You may also want to read our Internet Access Policy.

Any patron data stored (either intentionally or incidentally) on our computer network, or on our consortium's servers, is confidential and protected by MA law (MGLA Chapter 78, Section 7: "That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record as defined by clause Twenty-sixth of section seven of chapter four.). We maintain no permanent records of what you view or the documents you create. The history file of sites you have visited is erased when the computer is reset or rebooted. We strongly suggest that you "reset" the computer when you are finished. The computer resets itself after a certain time of inactivity.

Illegal activities or activities that interfere with or disrupt the network, users, services or equipment are prohibited and not protected by the library's privacy policy. The library does not routinely monitor public computers, but reserves the right to do so when a violation of this policy or illegal activity is suspected. Staff is authorized to take immediate action to protect the security of computers and the network. This includes confiscating any removable media, requiring a user to leave a computer or the premises, and contacting law enforcement authorities.

Security in a networked electronic environment cannot be guaranteed. Even the most secure networks can be susceptible to outside intervention Therefore, all transactions, files, and communications are vulnerable to unauthorized access and use, and therefore should be considered public. Think very carefully about what you are revealing about yourself as you type into a computer.

Library computers are located in public areas which must be shared by library users of all ages, backgrounds, values, and sensibilities. We strive to balance the rights of users to access different information resources with the rights of users to work in a public environment free from harassing sounds and visuals. We ask all our library users to remain sensitive to the fact that they are working in a public environment shared by others. If what you view or listen to causes discomfort to others, staff may intervene.

Computer users are asked to respect the privacy of other computer users. This includes not using someone else's login/password, not modifying someone else's password, not trying to gain access to someone else's data or search history, not retrieving someone else's printout, and not "hovering" over others while waiting to use the computer.

Be sure to log out of any services that you have logged into. Web-based email is notoriously vulnerable to unauthorized access and modification. Even if you log out, in a pubic environment, the next user my be able to see the pages you have visited, including your mail, by hitting the Back button on the browser. We strongly recommend you "reset" our Internet computers after use.

We have no control over how the sites you visit on our computers use your personal data, and the degree of privacy they extend to you. We encourage you to review their privacy policies individually. Be especially careful when the page owner asks if you want your password to be "remembered". This works fine at home but isn't a good idea at a public computer. Some sites, assuming you are working on a private computer, send "cookies" that can compromise the security of your login and information. You may even want to avoid sites that seem to "remember" you when you don't want to be remembered.

Data loss is a fact of life in an electronic environment -- our concern for your privacy makes data loss more likely on our computers than on a true "personal" computer in your home. If you lose data on our computers, if our technical staff is available, we will try to recover the data, but if the computer has been restarted for any reason, we cannot. To protect your privacy, our computers have software that keeps data from being stored permanently on the hard drive. Once the computer is rebooted for any reasons, any stored information from your session is deleted. This protects your privacy, but can lead to the loss of your data, especially in the event of a computer freeze or power interruption. For privacy and data safety reasons we do encourage you to use a removable storage device like a thumb drive to store your data when you are working on Office applications. That way, your files won't exist on the C: drive of the computer for subsequent users to view. And they won't disappear when the computer is restarted. You can either bring in your own device or purchase a thumb drive at the Circulation Desk for $10.

We cannot guarantee the security and confidentiality of any transaction, particularly e-commerce transactions. If you are concerned about these transactions, or for that matter any transfer of sensitive electronic data, we suggest you do not use library computers for this purpose.

If you have any questions related to your privacy at the library, please feel free to ask for clarification from the Reference Staff. If necessary, they will consult with the technical and managerial staff and answer your questions to the best of their ability, given the complex technical and legal issues involved.