Congress renews USA PATRIOT Act without needed reforms

Late on Thursday, May 26, Congress passed reauthorization of three key sections of the PATRIOT Act without any changes for four more years.  By establishing the next sunset deadline of June 1, 2015, Congress has kicked the ball out-of-bounds rather than truly address the troubling issues in the USA PATRIOT Act.

ALA has actively worked for USA PATRIOT Act reform since the Act was first proposed in 2001.  More recently ALA has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Research Libraries and the Coalition for Reader Privacy pushing for reforms, especially to Section 215.  The final vote was frustrating and encouraging at the same time.  Earlier in the week Senators Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul continued to seek the opportunity to submit amendments, including ones targeting improved reader privacy protections. In the end, the Senate was allowed some opportunity for amendments — but all failed.  Three other Republicans voted with Paul, and the 19 Democrats against the extension.  Those voting “aye” on the extension included 31 Democrats and 41 Republicans. The final Senate vote, late in the day, was 72 to 23.

On the House side 54 Democrats joined 196 Republicans to vote “aye.”  But 31 republicans votes with the 122 Democrats against the extension.  Meanwhile 29 members did not vote.  ALA will be doing an analysis of the vote counts and how library grassroots supporters can send “thank you messages” to members of Congress who supported reforms.  More will be posted on the District Dispatch in the coming week.

Three sections — Section 215 on business records (often referred to as the “library provision”), lone wolf and roving wiretap sections — would have expired at 12:01 a.m. May 27 without this reauthorization. President Obama “signed” the bill from France by authorizing his electronic signature.  The three provisions are now extended for four years.

For background on these provisions see:

ALA Washington Office “District Dispatch” at:
http://www.districtdispatch.org/?cat=10

ALA Office of Government Relations Issues at:
http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/ogr/issuebriefs/surveillance_privacy.pdf

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at:
http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/ifissues/usapatriotact.cfm

Detailed description of the three sections at:  http://www.reformthepatriotact.org/

Is it a done deal? Well…

Meanwhile, very late yesterday, ALA learned that there is already another effort by Senate reformists to address needed changes.  Senators Leahy, Akaka, Bingaman, Boxer, Cardin, Coons, Durbin, Franken, Gillibrand, Harkin and Wyden have introduced the USA PATRIOT ACT Improvements Act of 2011 (S. 1125).  ALA will be reviewing this new bill and working with supporters and allies.  Further analysis in the coming weeks.

Lynne Bradley
Director, OGR

About Jenni Terry

Jenni Terry was a press officer with the Washington Office.

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