WASHINGTON — Today, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that will provide crucial checks against the National Security Letters (NSLs) authority expanded under the USA PATRIOT Act, which has impacted numerous library patrons across the country.
At an event in the Cannon House Office Building, the National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007 was introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), William Delahunt (D-MA), and Ron Paul (R-TX).
“Concern for our fundamental liberties is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Nadler. “The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007 protects Americans against unnecessary intrusion into their private lives, and more importantly, prevents abuse of power by the government. We need to bring the NSL Authority in line with the Constitution, enhance checks and balances, and, in doing so, better protect our national security.”
Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the ALA Washington Office, also spoke at the event.
“The American Library Association applauds Congress’ effort to reform National Security Letters to minimize this unconstitutional intrusion into library patrons’ records,” Sheketoff said. “On June 27, ALA’s governing body unanimously passed a resolution condemning the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain library records.”
The National Security Letters Reform Act of would address many of the abuses disclosed by the Justice Department’s Inspector General in an internal FBI audit from March 2007. Specifically, the bill would:
- Give an NSL recipient the right to challenge the letter and its nondisclosure requirement;
- Place a time limit on the NSL gag order and allow for court approved extensions;
- Give notice to the target of an NSL if the government seeks to use the records obtained from the NSL in a subsequent proceeding; and
- Give the target an opportunity to receive legal counsel and challenge the use of those records.
Last month, law enforcement’s use of NSLs came under criticism from former Chief Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court Royce Lamberth, who spoke at ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington, DC.
“We have to understand you can fight the war [on terrorism] and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war,” Lamberth said.
“The privacy violations that have come as a result of NSLs have affected libraries and their patrons long enough,” said ALA President Loriene Roy. “Hopefully, this legislation will serve to alleviate the ‘chilling effect’ that has come over many of our country’s libraries.”
The “chilling effect” Roy mentions is a reference to a 2005 report released by ALA, “Impact and Analysis of Law Enforcement Activity in Academic and Public Libraries,” which suggests that library patrons can be intimidated by intrusive measures like the USA PATRIOT Act and NSLs. It can best be thought of as a patron’s concern about privacy of their library records, which may result in reluctance to check out certain materials.
Impact and Analysis of Law Enforcement Activity in Academic and Public Libraries is available here (PDF).
A video of Judge Lamberth at ALA’s Annual Conference can be found at the Washington Office’s Conference web page.