2 Library Faculty Position Statement on Vendor Surveillance

Jill Emery

Portland State University Library Resolution on Vendor Surveillance

Background:  

Over the last year, Librarians at Portland State University became increasingly aware of troubling surveillance activities by library content providers/vendors. In particular, we are concerned about: Proctorio and RELX (the parent company of Elsevier & Engineering Village & Thomson-Reuters who provide LexisNexis & Nexis Uni). Here are the major concerns outlined with these providers/vendors:

 

Proctorio: Proctorio is a remote testing software which recently partnered with Mc-Graw-Hill. Shea Swauger, Department Head for Research Support Services at the University of Colorado Denver, has researched and written extensively on how Proctorio’s algorithmic surveillance can harm students, especially students with disabilities.The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is ending their contracts with Proctorio for these and other reasons. Our concern is the precedent set that would enable other publishers to use browser locks on individual students or groups of students and prevent students from accessing competitors’ resources through library databases.

 

RELX: RELX is a multinational corporation whose subsidiaries include Elsevier, Engineering Village, Thomson-Reuters, Nexis Uni, and LexisNexis. In April 2021, LexisNexis signed a multi-million dollar contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to reporting on the ICE contract by the Intercept, LexisNexis databases “offer an oceanic computerized view of a person’s existence” and will provide the agency with “the data it needs to locate people with little if any oversight.” There are growing calls among academics and librarians to boycott the products provided by these companies on college campuses.

Unfortunately, while Proctorio and RELX are the most egregious examples, this behavior is not limited to two vendors. The Library Freedom organization promotes the Vendor Privacy Scorecard rubric to evaluate providers’ respect of users’ digital privacy. Almost every content provider in academia has room to improve their privacy practices in regards to end user data.

Whereas: 

In November 2016, then-President Wim Wiewel declared Portland State University a sanctuary university.  Being a sanctuary campus means:

  • The Portland State University Campus Public Safety Office does not and will not enforce federal immigration laws as is required by State law.
  • Portland State University will not facilitate or consent to immigration enforcement activities on our campus unless legally compelled to do so or in the event of clear exigent circumstances such as an imminent risk to the health or safety of others.
  • Portland State University will not share confidential student information, such as immigration status, with the US. Federal government unless required by court order.

Portland State University Faculty Senate amended a resolution endorsing this statement at the December 5, 2016 adding in:

“This endorsement, however, should not be interpreted to imply that the Senate necessarily approves compliance with any future state law, federal law, or court order that would require the University to release confidential student information or otherwise assist in enforcement of federal immigration law. Should such a situation arise, we ask the President to consult with the Senate regarding the appropriate response.”

This amended resolution passed with 43 votes in favor and 2 abstaining votes.

Further, President Stephen Percy has issued three different statements supporting DACA students labeled as important messages from PSU Leaders starting in 2019.

Whereas:

Portland State University hosts multiple services and resources for Dreamers, and Dr. Óscar Fernández led a successful allyship campaign in Fall 2020 garnering signatures from faculty across campus. Faculty were asked to sign onto the following principles:

  1. Pledging to advocate for DREAMers by examining barriers they may face in my academic unit and/or university work
  2. Pledging to display posters in my office, my online classroom, and/or my syllabi in support of DREAMers.
  3. Pledging to continue to educate yourself about the aspirations and challenges facing DREAMers.
  4. Sharing contact information with Global Diversity and Inclusion to include faculty names, affiliations, and contact information via websites.

Be It Resolved:

The University Library will  begin a review of surveillance practices of Library content providers and reserves the right to cancel purchase or subscription of online products by content providers with known inappropriate use of surveillance techniques. The Library will inform library users of cancellations based on ethical concerns. The University Library will strive to replace content canceled based on unethical activities with viable alternatives from companies that act more ethically in their overall business practices.