Thursday, August 14, 2008


Streamed recycling bin at the Quebec City Convention Centre:

The wasted paper that filled all the extra bags they gave away at the end of the conference:

Most of it was travel and tourism information.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Academics Beware: Traveling through the U.S. and U.K.

Conference-goers and traveling researchers need to be very wary of some recent developments. Whether you are a U.S. citizen, or just a visitor, whether returning home to the U.S., or just traveling through because your travel agent found the cheapest flights take you through the U.S., U.S. Border Patrol and Customs agents can:

  • Scan and hold laptops indefinitely
  • They can make electronic copies of hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, video and audio tapes
  • They can seize papers, documents, books, pamphlets, or even litter (source)

The scans and seizures are also being used to search for copyright violations (you need to prove that the music on your iPod is music you purchased, presumably).

It must be emphasized: while the media continue to repeat the word laptops as if these were the only focus of the search and seizure, the fact is that it can be any form of recording or documentation in any format that can be searched and seized. Indeed, one has to wonder why the media repeat each other in narrowing their focus.

From a UK perspective, this is nothing new, as the same applies there and came into effect there first.

From the vantage point of anthropologists who often travel overseas to do ethnographic research, this is a major problem if traveling through either the U.K. or the U.S.: we swear to safeguard informant confidentiality, and that is essentially null and void now that any or all of our data can be copied and used. It also potentially turns our paper and electronic documentation of a community into an instrument of free, involuntary, global surveillance for the U.S. It also means that our various ethics review agencies are making academics sign on to policies that they can no longer reasonably uphold, such as confidentiality.

In my case it means something very simple: the U.K. and the U.S. are simply completely off my list of possible travel choices for as long as such policies stay in place. From a personal point of view, the world suddenly got a little smaller, much more manageable, and my data is safer.

For more on this see:

Washington Post: Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained at Border

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Policy description (pdf)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Answering Questions on Border Laptop Searches

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hello from IFLA

Just wanted to write a quick note from the International Federation of Library Associaitions conference in Québec City, Québec.

This is my second academic conference this summer (well, second ever), and is so very different from the ACA conference I last posted about. Over 4,000 delegates flew, drove, trained, or bused to Québec City for the week-long conference. The sessions are translated in up to 6 languages, and span the gammot of librarianship and information studies. The conference is being held at the Centre des congrès de Québecis, a massive building right in the heart of the city. It's so big, the federation has outsourced the organization (which seems pretty typical for this type of thing) to an event organizing company, Concorde Services.

In my conference bag, I have a 200 page program, printed in French and English, a CD-ROM version of the program with the conference papers, all sorts of maps and tourism information, a small spiral bound notebook, and other ephemera. It really is a lot of paper, but truth be told, with something this size, it's felt good more than once to have a bag full of information on paper. The pen that came with the notebook is amazing, I will post a picture shortly.

Lots more to write about soon.