ALA Keeps a Watchful Eye on the PATRIOT Act

Issues surrounding the USA PATRIOT Act and related privacy and surveillance laws are of utmost importance to the library community. Since the swift passage of this bill, which was signed into law a little over a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the ALA has focused primarily on Section 215 because of its potential to provide law enforcement with access to confidential library records and another investigative tool that has even less legal review, national security letters (NSLs).

The ALA has consistently sought reforms to the PATRIOT Act and other surveillance laws in order to protect library patrons and the general public from abuse of these investigative tools.


Last week, Congress’ attention turned once again to this legislation to begin addressing key provisions of the PATRIOT Act that will expire — or “sunset” — if not reauthorized by December 31, 2009.  The three sections scheduled to sunset are Section 301 (roving wiretaps), Section 6001 (“lone wolf” surveillance), and Section 215 (the business records provision, often referred to as the “library provision”).

On September 17, the “Judiciously Using Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts” (JUSTICE) Act was introduced into the Senate. Another Senate bill, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009, was introduced a few days later on September 22. Both bills would restore a balance between our nation’s surveillance laws and our civil liberties; whereas, previously introduced bills have sought to merely reauthorize these three PATRIOT Act sections without reforms.

The ALA is encouraged by the introduction of these two strong bills, as well as the oversight hearings held in both the House and the Senate on September 22 and 23, respectively.

This post is the first in an irregular, but ongoing, series of blogs to highlight such activities and to point readers to ALA’s Web pages and other sources of information on these important issues.  As Congress continues to draft key surveillance laws to reauthorize PATRIOT Act sections and as the public debate heats up, the ALA Washington Office will provide ongoing reports and updates on the status of legislation and information on how different provisions in proposed bills will affect libraries. We will also alert supporters and enlist their involvement with grassroots advocacy at critical times.

For additional information about these issues and ALA’s policy positions on the confidentiality of library records as well as the PATRIOT Act, see these OGR Web pages and these Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Web pages.


House Hearing: September 22, 2009
The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler (NY-D), held an oversight hearing on the USA PATRIOT Act. More information and the webcast are available here.

Senate Hearing: September 23, 2009
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a full-committee hearing, Reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act: Ensuring Liberty and Security.” More information and the webcast are available here.

Key Senate Bills as of September 24, 2009:
S. 1686 (JUSTICE Act)
S. 1692 (USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009)

Key House Bills as of September 24, 2009:
H.R. 1800 (National Security Letters Reform Act of 2009)
H.R. 1467 (Safe and Secure America Act of 2009)

DOJ Letter to Sen. Leahy
US Department of Justice letter to Senator Patrick Leahy September 14, 2009

Lynne Bradley
Director, ALA Office of Government Relations

About Jenni Terry

Jenni Terry was a press officer with the Washington Office.


  1. A Senate Judiciary Committee “markup” or work session on S. 1692 is scheduled for Thursday, September 30th. Standby for more news and grassroots alerts.
    Lynne Bradley

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