ALA Applauds National Security Letters Reform Act

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.

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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.

About Jacob Roberts

Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

One comment

  1. The resolution, “Resolution on the Use and Abuse of National Security Letters, is found at http://tinyurl.com/2pkcrg

    RESOLVED, That the American Library Association condemns the use of National Security Letters to obtain library records; and, be it further

    RESOLVED, That the American Library Association urges Congress to pursue legislative reforms in order to provide adequate protection for each library user’s Constitutional right to be free from unwarranted and unjustified government surveillance, including:

    * Judicial oversight of National Security Letters (NSLs) requiring a showing of individualized suspicion and demonstrating a factual connection between the individual whose records are sought by the FBI and an actual investigation;
    Elimination of the automatic and permanent imposition of a nondisclosure or “gag” order whenever an NSL is served on an individual or institution;

    * Allowing recipients of NSLs to receive meaningful judicial review of a challenge to their NSL without deferring to the government’s claims;

    * Increased oversight by Congress and the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice over NSLs and FBI activities that implicate the First Amendment; and

    * Providing for the management, handling, dissemination and destruction of personally identifiable information obtained through NSLs; and, be it further

    RESOLVED, That the ALA communicates this resolution to the Offices of the President and Vice President, Congress, ALA members, and state chapters; and that ALA urges its members, state chapters, and all library advocates to ask Congress to restore civil liberties and correct the abuse and misuse of National Security Letters.

    Adopted unanimously by the Council of the American Library Association
    Wednesday, June 27, 2007
    Washington, D.C.

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