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Library to Show Snowden Movie

Saturday, November 07, 2015
West Lebanon — Lebanon Public Libraries officials are offering a privacy prize to anyone who attends their screening of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour at the Kilton Public Library on Tuesday evening.

Information Technology Librarian Chuck McAndrew has downloaded an operating system called Tails, designed to help users browse the web more securely, onto flash drives free for the taking.

“It’s an operating system that you can run on pretty much any computer and it leaves no trace,” McAndrew said Thursday. “Preserving your privacy online is difficult because there’s a lot of people who want to get your information, so what this tries to do is basically make a turnkey solution.”

A flash drive is a small information storage device that can be plugged into a computer’s USB port, just like a phone charger or a computer mouse. McAndrew said each flash drive cost $4, paid for out of the libraries’ programming budget.

The O scar-winning documentary about Snowden, a former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor who has fled to Russia, recounts Snowden’s efforts in revealing the NSA’s covert surveillance programs.

The decision by Lebanon library officials to provide the flash drives comes two months after library officials decided to continue their involvement with a privacy network called Tor, despite concerns raised by law enforcement officials who said Tor could be abused by criminals.

“We’ve been kind of focusing on privacy at this library recently ... so we wanted to kind of follow up on that,” McAndrew said. “Obviously this is something that is important to people in Lebanon.”

McAndrew said the excitement around Tor has debunked a common perception that only privacy activists, librarians and the technologically savvy are concerned about online privacy. Instead, he said, he’s found that many people have felt “helpless,” but when they’re introduced to tools like Tails, they’re excited.

“Once you start telling them there’s practical things they can do, you find that there’s a huge amount of interest in it and a huge amount of enthusiasm,” McAndrew said.

Lebanon’s decision kept Kilton as the first library in the country to provide a Tor relay, which was ushered into Lebanon by the Library Freedom Project and which Tor uses to help mask Tor users’ identities around the world.

Lebanon’s decision made national news and was counted as a victory for free speech by privacy advocates, who say the system can be used by average folks who want to protect their privacy, as well as the likes of political activists, journalists and domestic violence survivors.

Tor is not yet installed on Lebanon Public Libraries computers, but McAndrew said he is hoping to have Tor installed within the coming weeks. At that point, users who log onto a library computer will have the option of browsing the web via Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Tor.

Meanwhile, Tails — which stands for “the amnesic incognito live system” — sends its web traffic through Tor, so users can get the benefit of Tor via the flash drives before Lebanon finishes installing Tor on its computers, McAndrew said.

“We have quite a few things that we’ve done to the (public) computers to make them more private, but none of that is anywhere near as good as using the Tails system,” McAndrew said.

When a user plugs the flash drive into a computer’s USB port and boots up Tails, the Linux-based operating system flags anytime an action is about to be taken that could compromise privacy, McAndrew said.

“Boxes pop up if you do something unsafe,” he said.

Anyone can download the Tails operating system onto a flash drive free of charge, but McAndrew said that the pre-downloaded flash drives will be helpful to folks who are less technologically savvy.

An operating system is the software a computer uses to function and run other programs. Other examples of operating systems are Windows 10 from Microsoft and OS X from Apple. McAndrew said using the Tails system will not overwrite or affect your computer’s main operating system.

The documentary about Snowden — who recently tweeted a shoutout to librarians following the decision at Lebanon libraries — begins at 6:30 p.m. at Kilton. McAndrew said he has pre-programmed 35 free flash drives.

If more people show up, he said, “then I’ll have to hand out IOUs.”

This story was first reported on the Valley News website,, Friday morning. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at or 603-727-3220.

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