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CILIP Policy Statement on COVID-19, civil liberties and professional ethics

14 May 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Nick Poole
CILIP Policy Statement on COVID-19, civil liberties and professional ethics

Download this Policy Statement as a PDF


CILIP is the professional association which champions and supports people working in libraries, information and knowledge management. In addition to our UK-wide remit, we support and represent professionals in Scotland through our affiliation with CILIP in Scotland and in Wales and Northern Ireland through our National Committees, CILIP Cymru Wales and CILIP Ireland.

CILIP’s primary concern is for the health and wellbeing of our members, the wider library, information and knowledge profession and of service users. We are committed to ensuring that all COVID-19 planning is motivated first and foremost by the health and welfare of the people involved.

Our Ethical Framework commits all information professionals to uphold, promote and defend:

  • Human rights, equalities and diversity and the equitable treatment of users and colleagues
  • The public benefit and the advancement of the wider good of our profession to society
  • Preservation and continuity of access to knowledge
  • Intellectual freedom, including freedom from censorship
  • Impartiality and the avoidance of inappropriate bias
  • The confidentiality of information provided by clients or users and the right of all individuals to privacy
  • The development of information skills and information literacy

As such, our Ethical Framework commits us to defend civil liberties and to support our members in promoting the qualified rights and freedoms of the individual, including in protecting them from unwarranted state intervention or surveillance.

CILIP will actively monitor and engage with the UK Government, with the Scottish and Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive (hereafter ‘UK Administrations’) to ensure that the response to COVID-19 reflects three key principles, drawing on our Ethical Framework:

  • Preserving individual rights and freedoms
  • Ensuring proportionality, transparency and accountability
  • Promoting evidence-based decision-making

Responding to COVID-19

The Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) constitutes a public health emergency. We recognise that there is an expectation that the UK Administrations will take reasonable steps to minimise suffering and loss of life during the pandemic and that this may involve placing limited restrictions on individual freedoms.

CILIP believes it is essential that any such restrictions are proportionate, time-limited and clearly governed by Law, that they should only be deployed as a matter of last resort and that they remain subject to appropriate scrutiny and oversight, including oversight by Parliament, National Governments and the judiciary.

At the same time, we believe that there are principles that should not be eroded, notwithstanding the current public health emergency. These include:

  • The universal principles of equity and equality
  • The individual’s right to privacy and the ability to control the use of their personal data
  • The central role of intellectual freedom and freedom of access to information in our democracy
  • The inalienable right to freedom of expression

We encourage all public agencies, arms-length bodies, central and local Government across the UK Administrations to take these principles into account in their planning and response to COVID-19.

The need for transparency

As noted above, implementing a rapid and effective response to the emerging pandemic may require the adoption of short-term legislative powers by the UK Administrations such as those laid out in the Coronavirus Act 2020 , the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and related legislation. It may also demand the rapid deployment of technologies which focus on the collection and use of large quantities of personal data or of sensitive medical data pertaining to individuals.

Given the urgency of response, there is a significant risk that the normal operation of scrutiny and accountability will be curtailed or circumvented. This gives rise to the risk of abuses of power and of encroachment on civil liberties.

For this reason, it is essential that decisions made in the public interest are made transparently and with due regard to the reasonable concerns of representative organisations.

In order to ensure transparency and accountability, we encourage the UK Administrations to adopt the following principles:

  • Protecting the integrity of the public record
  • Ensuring compliance with rules governing public procurement
  • Adopting open data policies wherever practicable
  • Supporting an informed citizenship by sharing available evidence and advice that supports policy development and decision making

Evidence-based policy

CILIP believes that the effectiveness and accountability of public policy depends on ensuring the use of the best available evidence in decision-making.

Our collective response to COVID-19, including planning for the resumption of public services, the re-opening of workplaces and the safe return to work of staff and volunteers must be driven first and foremost by a concern for the health and welfare of the people involved, based on the best available evidence.

CILIP acknowledges and welcomes the role that evidence has played in the coordinated response by the NHS and related arms-length public bodies to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

It is essential to ensure that health and other public services are funded appropriately to retain library, knowledge and information professional staff to support them in mobilising knowledge and evidence in the interests of service users.

At the same time, as a sector, we must ensure that the re-commencement of library and information services is informed by the best available evidence, to ensure that our own response is proportionate and accountable while protecting service staff, volunteers and users.

Defending the right to privacy

CILIP recognises that in order to ensure that decision-making about COVID-19 is evidence-based, it is necessary for the NHS and arms-length bodies in the UK Administrations to deploy technology and applications which include the capture, retention and processing of identifiable personal data.

Notwithstanding the current public health emergency, we believe that the right to privacy is established under law and should not be undermined either intentionally or through the rushed implementation of technological solutions.

To this end, we call on the relevant authorities to ensure that the implementation of so-called ‘track and trace’ apps is compliant with the requirements established for the NHS App Library (, which include evidence of outcomes, clinical safety, data protection, security, usability and accessibility, interoperability, and technical stability.

CILIP will liaise with organisations involved in monitoring civil liberties and privacy rights in the UK and internationally to ensure that the digital response to COVID-19 does not infringe on individual rights, except where absolutely necessary to prevent loss of life.

At the same time, we will work with the library, information and knowledge profession to ensure that our own use of technologies, including tools for online engagement, do not themselves risk infringing the individual right to privacy.

Active monitoring and engagement

As the representative Association for librarians, information and knowledge professionals, CILIP will continue actively to engage with local and central Government in the UK Administrations, including Parliamentary Committees, to monitor the overall programme in response to COVID-19.

We will actively promote the values and principles set out in this Policy, and engage with public officials to ensure that they are reflected both in the response to COVID-19 and in the post-pandemic recovery.

Where we consider that there is a material risk of encroachment into civil liberties and the rights or freedoms of individual citizens that fails to meet the test of proportionality, transparency and accountability, we will actively intervene on behalf of our members.

We will actively liaise and consult with our members on an ongoing basis to inform this response.

This policy was approved on the 15th May 2020

It will be reviewed by the 15th May 2021

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

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