Washington E-Bulletin - November 2013

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Vol. 2013, Issue 11

A Look Ahead

Surveillance Issues Remain at Focus on Capitol Hill
Since June, revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) programs have confirmed that the government is using the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for broad domestic surveillance of Americans' communications. With public opinion shifting, Washington has turned its focus to the programs and authorities in question. Top administration and intelligence officials have been called to testify, independent review board members have been tasked their work, and members of Congress have voiced opinions on the topic of domestic surveillance that run the gamut from supportive to irate.

Over 25 bills have been introduced since this news broke, with proposals ranging from moderate reform to total repeal. AALL’s Government Relations Office has been working closely with key Congressional staff to support the strongest proposals to protect Americans' privacy and require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability. Here’s what we expect to see in the month ahead.

On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee and original author of the USA PATRIOT Actintroduced legislation that seeks to significantly limit the collection and use of Americans' information under our nation's domestic surveillance authorities. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring Act, or "USA FREEDOM Act", would rein in the collection of Americans’ records by raising the standard for collection of items pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and protect Americans’ communication collected under FISA. AALL has joined more than 20 diverse organizations in endorsing this legislation. The Leahy/Sensenbrenner proposal pulls together pieces of a number of bills introduced in the House and Senate with bipartisan support, including the AALL-endorsed Ending Secret Law Act (H.R.2475, S. 1130). You can read more about AALL’s support for the bill on our Washington Blawg.

Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) introduced their own proposal related to the NSA surveillance programs following a closed-door mark up yesterday afternoon. The Intelligence Committee’s FISA Improvements Act would tighten oversight and increase transparency but preserve the core of the NSA's power, authorizing its phone data collection. The legislation would grant the agency explicit authority to gather records listing the numbers, duration and time of all U.S. telephone calls, but not their content. Feinstein has said that the measure would increase privacy protections and congressional oversight of the program, but would preserve activities she insists are vital to preventing terrorist attacks.

Senator Leahy and Senator Feinstein’s legislation come in direct opposition to one another; Feinstein is the Judiciary Committee's second-most senior Democrat. Thus with a status quo proposal from the Intelligence Committee unlikely to bring real reform, it is particularly important to put our momentum behind meaningful proposals like the USA FREEDOM Act. (See how you can help below.)

With 86 co-sponsors in the House and 16 in the Senate, the USA FREEDOM Act has broad support and may be heard by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as soon as this month. The Intelligence Committee approved their bill by a vote of 11-4 behind closed doors. As more revelations about the surveillance programs are cast into the spotlight, we can be certain the two camps will remain divided— and at the center of attention. 

Act Now

Ask your Members of Congress to Co-Sponsor the USA FREEDOM Act
AALL has been visiting key Congressional offices to drum up support for the Leahy/Sensenbrenner USA FREEDOM Act. With the Intelligence Committee’s status quo proposal also on the table, it is particularly important to put our momentum behind this important legislative reform. Contact your members of Congress to request that they co-sponsor the USA FREEDOM Act. A strong showing in both chambers could make the difference for serious and meaningful reforms. The USA FREEDOM Act provides effective oversight of expanding surveillance on library users and amends provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and other legislation that threatens the rights of inquiry and free expression for library users.

Tell Congress How the Shutdown Affected You
Now that the federal government has reopened its doors and the Congressional budget panel is meeting to negotiate a compromise on a budget agreement, it's more important than ever before that your members of Congress hear from you about the impact of the government shutdown on access to information. Use our Legislative Action Center to contact your Senators and Representative today and tell them how the lack of access to government information affected their own constituents, including the patrons of your law library. Be sure to describe your institution, your patrons, and any obstacles they faced as a result of the government shutdown. Thank you to those who have already shared your stories!

The Government Relations Office is also working with interested AALL chapters to send targeted letters to members of Congress to educate them about the effects of the shutdown on access to information. If your chapter is interested in participating, email Elizabeth Holland at eholland@aall.org.

Your stories may act as an impetus towards avoiding another budget impasse!

AALL in the States

ORALL Annual Meeting Includes Advocacy Program, UELMA Update
Submitted by Mary Jenkins, ORALL Government Relations Committee Chair
At the October 2013 Annual Meeting of the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries (ORALL), AALL Director of Government Relations Emily Feltren and Mary Jenkins, Director of the Hamilton County Law Library in Cincinnati, presented a program entitled "UELMA and Other Legislation Affecting Law Libraries." Emily offered a brief history of the development of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA), its purpose, and its enactment in eight states thus far. She pointed out the material covered by the acts, which vary somewhat state to state. As the Digital Access to Legal Information Committee identifies authentication best practices, UELMA advocates will benefit from concrete information about approaches and costs. Next, Mary gave an overview of UELMA-related progress in ORALL states, starting with Ohio which has an identified group of advocates and an effort that is gathering steam. And, although Kentucky and Indiana do not yet have enactment plans for UELMA, librarians and others are watching for opportunities to educate and advocate. Lastly, Emily highlighted a number of other federal issues of interest to AALL and its members. PowerPoint slides from the program are available on AALLNET.

SNELLA Assists Study on E-Books
Submitted by Jonathan Stock, SNELLA Government Relations Committee Chair
The Connecticut Library Association has spearheaded efforts to address the issue of the availability of electronic books to public library patrons. These efforts culminated earlier this year in passage of Connecticut Special Act 13-10, An Act Concerning a Study Regarding the Availability of Electronic Books to Users of Public Libraries, which mandates a Consumer Protection Commission Study to be completed no later than February 1. Members of the Southern New England Law Librarians Association (SNELLA) are currently compiling articles on licensing law materials for study inclusion. It is anticipated that beneficial library licensing legislation may arise from this study.

Roundup and Review