ALA, ARL express support for Paul amendment to the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act

The American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) today endorsed Senator Rand Paul’s amendment to S. 1038, the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011. On Friday, the associations called on the Senate to amend S. 1038 to establish 2013, rather than 2015, as the next sunset year for three expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act.

The associations released the following joint statement of support for the Paul amendment:

Today we are endorsing Senator Rand Paul’s amendment to return Section 215 of the Act to its pre-2001 form, limiting surveillance under that provision to suspected terrorists and spies and restoring privacy to the records of innocent library users. We are also endorsing Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Paul’s amendment to add reforms from Senator Leahy’s bill, S. 193, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011.

Of the three expiring sections, Section 215 (also known as the “library records provision”) has always been of serious concern to the library community. This provision upsets well-established expectations of reader privacy by opening library records to government scrutiny with a showing of mere “relevance” to an investigation.

Our associations have long sought reforms to restore the balance between the government’s need to conduct surveillance and the constitutional rights of personal privacy. We are dismayed that today’s planned Senate vote for a straight four-year extension signals Congress will once again miss an opportunity to institute reform.

During this Congress our organizations have endorsed S. 193, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011, based on its improved reader privacy protections. We applaud Senator Leahy for introducing the bill as well as the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who endorsed these reforms. The library community is disappointed that meaningful floor debate and a vote on these important issues is likely to be deferred yet again.

While we would prefer to see passage of Senator’s Paul’s amendment or full debate on the reforms in S. 193, if there must be another extension of the PATRIOT Act without reform, it should run to 2013, rather than the proposed 2015 sunset.

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