At the library, computer are typically open for internet browsing, if you can provide them your library card number.

To what extend can I expect to protect my internet browsing privacy from library's monitoring?

  • 4
    No. Not with any level of confidence. They own the computer (physically and administratively) and thus own your session. You're out of luck.
    – Xander
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 22:28
  • @Xander Would TAILS work?
    – KnightOfNi
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 23:16
  • 5
    @KnightOfNi I'd say it's unlikely. First of all, they'd have to allow boot from removable media. If I ran their computers, I certainly wouldn't allow that.
    – Xander
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 23:40
  • Freedom of the press belongs to them what owns their own press. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 3:07
  • Firefox "private browsing" with its "https everywhere" extension could help a lot. But it depends on which strict is their spying.
    – peterh
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 7:01

2 Answers 2


The short answer is in comments and @msw's response. There is, literally, no way that you can use the library's (or anyone else's) systems and/or infrastructure and have a 100% guarantee of anonymity.

If the system and/or network owner is determined to be able to monitor and log your activity, there is nothing you can do to prevent it except simply not use their systems and/or network.

Some options available to the "library":

Software keyloggers on the computer
These can be difficult to detect, but can easily be worked around (e.g.: use your own live CD/USB) if preventative measures are not in place. That said, preventing and monitoring for the workarounds isn't difficult either.

Bear in mind that "keylogger" here is a catch-all for any local monitoring tools which may in fact include screen capturing & recording or other methods of tracking your usage.

Hardware keyloggers on the computer
Depending on the implementation, these can be difficult to nigh-impossible for you to detect. Any attempts to assess a system for the presence of such devices is likely to draw attention.

Network traffic monitoring
Anything sent in the clear is an easy target. SSL/TLS, when properly implemented, can protect most data-in-transit but it will not obscure the addresses of the sites you visit. Some web-based proxies can be used to get around this, but it's also easy to block access to those.

For encrypted traffic, the network provider may set up a server that effectively acts as a man-in-the-middle for otherwise secure connections. They present themselves as you to the sites you visit, and as the sites you're visiting to you. Meanwhile, they can read all your traffic (SSL/TLS or otherwise) no matter where you go or what you do. (Bearing in mind that, at this point, the network provider still already knows what server you were trying to do it on.)

If the network provider also has ownership and/or control over the computer you're using, they can make this process practically transparent. Unless you're making a specific point to manually inspect the certificate of every site you visit, you'll never know what's going on. If they don't have such control (e.g.: you're using your cell phone or laptop on the free WiFi) you may see a warning pop up. Your options there are to click through the warning - thereby allowing the network provider to monitor your connection - or just not do what you were about to do.

Block what can't be monitored
Of course, every system has its limitations. And there's nearly always a way to work around common monitoring mechanisms. But these are largely well-known weaknesses and there's a simple way admins can force users into using only the applications, ports, and protocols they're capable of fully monitoring: whitelisting. They just configure the systems and network to only allow usage of the things they can monitor, and deny all others by default.

When the admin's got full control over the configuration of the network and/or system being used, they really can restrict the user to "their way or the highway". Of course, there's ultimately ways that nearly anything can be circumvented. But it's really hard to get around good security without being too conspicuous in a public setting.

Granted, this can come at the cost of user convenience and features. But would the admin rather let your the do whatever they want, or risk little Sally walking up to a workstation with the likes of tubgirl or goatse on the screen (to say the least of what could happen)?



They own the machine and the network, they can log anything you do if they wish to.

  • Btw, there are laws which bid them, too. For example, they are probably not allowed to log your passwords or your sensible private data even on their own machines and network, and anything which could contain that. Next to that, they are probably not allowed to alter ssl/tls keys for mitm-based https eavesdropping.
    – peterh
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 7:04

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