Significant Legislative Activity, FISA Update

Dear Library Advocates,

What a week on the Hill! We saw:

  • an Inspector General’s report affirming ALA’s arguments that National Security Letters (NSLs) are being abused;
  • House passage of the contentious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, H.R. 3773), a “substitute” bill, with library advocates doing their share to get some key votes for a “win” in this latest battle to balance civil liberties with fighting terrorism;
  • intensive grassroots lobbying from ALA members all over the country to get more Senators and Representatives on important “Dear Colleague” letters in order to show support for full funding of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries programs; and
  • ALA President-elect Jim Rettig testifying at a House hearing on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) libraries should not have been closed.

But these are only the current battles in the ongoing wars on all of these issues. While we won some this week, there are many more battles to come on these and other library issues. Congress goes out today for its two-week spring recess. Library advocates are asked to use this recess period to contact their Members of Congress while they are back home for this recess.

Here is some more information about one of this week’s most notable battles.

Lynne Bradley
Director, ALA Office of Government Relations (OGR)

House passes “improved” FISA Amendments Act (H.R. 3773)

You have likely seen the many news reports about the “vigorous” floor debate leading up to the House passage this afternoon of a “substitute” H.R. 3773. This bill goes further than the Senate version in terms of requiring improved reporting, more accountability and additional safeguards to keep law enforcement from compromising our civil liberties. While not a perfect bill, it goes further than the Protect America Act, passed last August, further than the earlier bill passed last fall in the House and further than the Senate bill.

Also, H.R. 3773 does NOT provide telecommunications immunity for providing phone and other records to law enforcement. The Senate bill includes immunity.

Late last night, the House went so far as to have a closed session to accommodate some of the Republicans who insisted that they had confidential information to share with representatives prior to a final vote. Although the public may never know about this confidential closed session, there are reports that discussion did not provide any new or highly classified information to the debate.

There will be many more battles as this issue moves forward. Watch for more information as we learn more about today’s vote and its repercussions.

The vote this afternoon was:

YEAS: 213 (all Democrats)
NAYS: 197 (11 Democrats, 186 Republicans)
VOTING PRESENT: 1 (one Democrat)
NOT VOTING: 20 (8 Democrats, 12 Republicans)

ALA, in conjunction with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) had earlier sent a letter to key Hill offices indicating support for this “substitute” version of H.R. 3773. The letter read:

We believe that the “Substitute” balances provisions between the House RESTORE Act, passed by the House last fall, and the Senate bill. The “Substitute” is a responsible, balanced compromise that enhances the government’s ability to monitor foreign terrorists and spies, yet maintaining safeguards important to protecting the freedoms of law-abiding Americans.

Thank you to all the advocates who worked so hard on this and other issues. 

Got any questions about our issues — or about advocating at the federal level? Feel free to call us at the ALA Office of Government Relations (OGR). Call toll-free: 1-800-941-8478. And, we’ll look for your comments on this blog, too!

About Jacob Roberts

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

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