FBI Withdraws Unconstitutional National Security Letter
Libraries vow to fight these continued government abuses
Today, the FBI withdrew an unconstitutional national security letter (NSL) issued to the Internet Archive, following a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Sadly, this news does not come as a surprise to the library community.
The FBI has committed serious and widespread abuse of NSLs in recent years, as demonstrated on several occasions, and this episode confirms yet again many of ALA’s most oft-stated concerns about the lack of oversight into the FBI’s surveillance activities, resulting in repeated and unnecessary intrusions into the lives of innocent American citizens.
ALA has stated several times that while librarians fully support the efforts of law enforcement in legitimate investigations, those efforts must be balanced against the right to privacy.
Colleagues of ours — a nonprofit consortium of 27 public and academic libraries in central Connecticut known as the Library Connection — received an NSL in May 2006 and were finally allowed to speak publicly after lawyers representing the government withdrew an appeal to keep their identities hidden after Federal District Court Judge Janet C. Hall declared the perpetual gag order that accompanies NSLs unconstitutional.
Since then, ALA has been at the forefront of the fight on NSL abuses, and was present at the introduction of the National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007 (H.R. 3189). We applaud Congress’ effort to reform NSLs to minimize this kind of unconstitutional intrusion and we hope this most recent episode demonstrates to the American public just how much the FBI continues to abuse its privileges.
As ALA’s resolution on NSL use and abuse states, “the freedom of thought is the most basic of all freedoms and is inextricably linked to freedom of inquiry; and freedom of inquiry can be preserved only in a society in which privacy rights are rigorously protected.”
We stand by that belief and will continue to fight for the right to privacy for all Americans. That’s why we continue to call for the Congress to pass legislation for meaningful Congressional oversight of these risky law enforcement tools.
We want to thank Brewster Kahle, EFF and the ACLU for their brave stand against this unconstitutional federal intrusion.
President, American Library Association