The American Library Association’s governing body has unanimously passed a resolution condemning the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain library records and urging Congress to pursue immediate reforms of NSL procedures.
The resolution, adopted at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., arose out of the ALA’s concerns over the misuse and abuse of National Security Letters detailed in the March, 2007 report submitted to Congress by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. The report describes how the FBI engaged in widespread and serious abuses of its authority to use NSLs, including significantly understating the number of NSLs used by the FBI in the classified reports given to Congress; using NSLs to collect consumer information, a practice prohibited by statute; and circumventing the requirements of the NSL statute to obtain information in the absence of any duly authorized investigation.
The resolution also supports George Christian’s appeal to Congress to reconsider the NSL authorities that allow the FBI to subject innocent people to fishing expeditions of their personal information with no judicial review. Christian, executive director of the Library Connection in Windsor, Connecticut, testified before Congress on behalf of himself and his colleagues, librarians Janet Nocek, Barbara Bailey, and Peter Chase, about their experience in being served with an NSL to obtain library users’ records and being gagged from discussing it. In his testimony, Christian asked the Senators “to take special note of the uses and abuses of NSLs in libraries and bookstores and other places where higher First Amendment standards should be considered.” The four – known as the “Connecticut John Does”- were presented with the ALA Paul Howard Award for Courage at the conference.
Among the legislative reforms ALA urges are:
- 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.
ALA has sent letters communicating the resolution to the Offices of the President and Vice President as well as to every member of Congress. ALA further asked 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.
“Resolution on the Use and Abuse of National Security Letters” can be found online at OIF’s website.