WASHINGTON – The American Library Association thanks and applauds Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John Sununu (R-NH) for today introducing the National Security Letter Reform Act of 2007, the first Senate legislation to take a stand against one of the more invasive measures empowered by the USA PATRIOT Act.
The bill comes in response to last spring’s Inspector General report of widespread abuse of NSLs by the FBI. NSLs carry particular significance for libraries, as virtually all of the libraries in the United States provide public access to the Internet, and are thus potentially vulnerable to the demand for records.
“ALA has urged reforms to National Security Letters from the get-go,” said ALA President Loriene Roy. “Law enforcement is extremely important, but those efforts must be balanced against Americans’ right to privacy, in our case for their library and Internet usage records.”
“The Feingold/Sununu bill addresses these very issues.”
Among other things, the NSL Reform Act narrows the types of records available without judicial review and requires the Attorney General to issue minimization and destruction procedures for information obtained through NSLs, so that information obtained about Americans is subject to enhanced protections and information obtained in error is not retained.
For a more information on the bill, please Senator Feingold’s press release.
In 2005, the Library Connection, a consortium of 27 Connecticut libraries, received an NSL from the FBI, along with its accompanying perpetual gag order, demanding library records. Library Connection challenged the constitutionality of the NSL (John Doe v. Gonzales) and its perpetual gag and eventually the FBI withdrew its appeal to keep the librarians’ identities hidden, after Federal District Court Judge Janet C. Hall declared the gag order unconstitutional. There may be more cases of NSLs in libraries; however, because of the gag rule, we will never know.