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America’s Librarians Call for Patriot Act Surveillance Reform in Congress

Don’t mess with librarians; they’re organized and they take notes.

The American Library Association and California Library Association have released statements in which they decry the current regime of government surveillance and call for significant reforms to the Patriot Act before any reauthorization of its powers this year.

The CLA’s resolution articulates multiple areas in which libraries and library patrons are particularly vulnerable to search, seizure and surveillance lacking 4th Amendment protections:

WHEREAS, the California Library Association is committed to encouraging free and open inquiry by preserving the privacy rights of library users, library employees, and persons in the United States; and

WHEREAS, the California Library Association opposes governmental actions that suppress or chill free and open inquiry and has called for the USA PATRIOT Act to be amended to restore fundamental constitutional rights and safeguards that protect civil liberties; and

WHEREAS, Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act allows the FBI to request and obtain library records for large numbers of individuals without reason to believe they are involved in illegal activity; and

WHEREAS, Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act has no established sunset and permits the FBI to easily obtain records using National Security Letters (NSL) without prior judicial oversight and without “clear and articulable facts” that the information sought is relevant to an ongoing authorized investigation; and

WHEREAS, Section 215 automatically requires and Section 505 permits the FBI to impose a “gag” order on the recipients, thereby prohibiting the reporting of abuse of government authority and abrogating the recipients’ First Amendment rights; and

WHEREAS, The library exemption that was included in the USA PATRIOT Reauthorization Act is so ambiguous that no library can be certain it is exempt; and

WHEREAS, the PATRIOT Act’s overbroad definition of domestic terrorism and “material support for terrorism” can lead to racial profiling, and scrutiny of cultural, philanthropic and political organizations within the U.S.; and

WHEREAS, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 25, 2009, that the FBI had used Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act 223 times between 2004 and 2007 and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Justice reported in March 2008 that the FBI had made 192,499 NSL requests from 2003 through 2006; and

WHEREAS, Section 215 revisions provide only limited safeguards so long as Section 505 permits warrantless access to personal information through NSLs, as demonstrated by OIG’s March 2008 report finding, “The FISA Court twice refused to authorize Section 215 orders based on concerns that the investigation was premised on protected First Amendment activity, and the FBI subsequently issued NSLs to obtain information” under Section 505 instead…

1. Opposes initiatives on the part of the United States government to constrain the free expression of ideas or to inhibit the use of libraries and information centers; and

2. Urges Congress sunset Section 215, returning FISA warrants to their pre-PATRIOT Act standards for issuance and limiting the types of business records subject to a warrant; and

3. Urges Congress to amend Section 505 to include a clear exemption for library records; and urges Congress to allow nondisclosure orders of limited scope and duration only when there is a clear and articulable national security interest and only upon the authority of a court, and to ensure that targets of such orders have a meaningful right to challenge them before a fair and neutral arbiter; and

4. Further urges Congress to intensify its oversight of the use of the USA PATRIOT Act as well as other government surveillance legislation that limits the civil and constitutional rights of the library community, broadly defined; and

5. Communicates this resolution to the California Legislature, the Governor of the State of California, and the California State Librarian; and

6. Urges its members, California librarians, California library trustees, library users and all intellectual freedom advocates to ask Congress to enact crucial safeguards protecting civil liberties.

I love how the CLA document has properly sourced footnotes. ALA President Camila Alire more generally declares:

The Senate Judiciary Committee failed to pass a bill that would restore the balance between protecting civil liberties and ensuring law enforcement has the tools it needs to fight terrorism, but leaders in the House have boldly stepped up to reopen the public debate on these challenging issues and address the need for reform…. Libraries have been on the receiving end of both Section 215 orders and NSLs, and we know reform is needed to these broad, sweeping policies in order to prevent the abuse of these tools and to protect innocent Americans from the unwarranted surveillance, collection and retention of their personal information.

The ALA has declared its support for H.R. 3845 (Patriot Act reform) and H.R. 3846 (FISA Amendments Act reform) but has not yet provided the infrastructure to help citizens get in touch with their members of Congress regarding these reforms. The House Judiciary Committee will be considering both these bills in just six days’ time; you can find a list of members and their phone numbers here. Regardless of whether your member of Congress is on the Judiciary Committee or not, it’s reasonable to make contact in support of CLA’s call for the repeal of Patriot Act Section 215 and the defanging of Section 505; you can use the ACLU’s action page on the subject to do so.

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