In late November, we issued an AALL Action Alert on the Reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/Patriot_alert.pdf) to support efforts of House and Senate members who opposed the conference report (H.R. 3199) in favor of striking a better balance between expanded government surveillance and protection of civil liberties. Sixteen provisions of the Act were due to expire at the end of December 2005. AALL has long been on record as opposing several provisions of the USA Patriot Act that erode the privacy and confidentiality of library users. Specifically, we have opposed Sec. 215 that gives the government the power to access information from libraries about patron records without probable cause. We have also opposed Sec. 505 that allows the FBI to issue "National Security Letters" under gag order to compel production of Internet use records from any entity that provides the public with access to the Internet-with no requirement that there be specific facts connecting the records sought to a suspected terrorist. The press reported last summer that the FBI is now issuing more than 30,000 NSLs a year.
As a result of your terrific response in contacting your congressional representatives last month and the grassroots efforts of other concerned individuals, the first conference report was rejected. The second conference report contained some slight improvements but still failed to satisfy our concerns. It was approved in the House on Dec. 15th by a 251 to 174 vote but was derailed in the Senate when the bill's supporters were not able to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a threatened filibuster. House and Senate conferees hurriedly agreed to approve a five-week extension and on December 30, President Bush signed S. 2167 which extends the sixteen expiring provisions through Feb. 3rd. The Senate reconvenes on January 18th and the House on January 31st, giving lawmakers little time to negotiate the most contentious provisions before the new deadline.
While it is important that law enforcement have the tools they need to combat terrorism, law librarians, as other citizens, want reasonable changes to the law to protect innocent people from intrusive government surveillance.
Please take advantage of the opportunity during the January recess to remind your elected representatives of your concerns, and encourage them to oppose the conference report unless certain changes are made to protect privacy and civil liberties. Call your Senate and House representatives now at their district office—you can easily find the phone numbers through their web sites (http://www.senate.gov/, http://www.house.gov/).
Urge them to support the following changes to the reauthorization bill which are needed to provide important safeguards to protect the privacy of library users:
- The ability for a Section 215 recipient to pose a meaningful challenge of a FISA Court order.
- Language requiring that records sought under a Section 215 order are described with "sufficient particularity" to prevent government fishing expeditions.
- The ability for a Section 505 recipient to pose a meaningful challenge to a National Security Letter.
Lastly, it's important that we thank the six Senators who came out in strong opposition to both conference reports and who continue to fight for these necessary changes. If you are in any of the following states, please be sure to call your Senator to express your gratitude for their leadership on this issue: Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Sen. John E. Sununu (R-NH), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO).
Timothy L. Coggins
Chair, AALL Government Relations Committee
Mary Alice Baish
AALL Washington Affairs Office