On May 22, as DD reported, the House passed a seriously flawed and dangerously weakened version of the USA Freedom Act — a bill intended to end the “dragnet” bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the NSA under the Patriot Act. Immediately, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy vowed publicly to recraft the House bill into legislation that not only truly accomplished the bill’s stated intent, but went even further to protect privacy, improve government transparency, and give civil liberties advocates a real voice in secret FISA court proceedings.
On July 29 Chairman Leahy delivered both a bill (summarized here) and on his promise. The product of intensive and bi-partisan negotiations in both chambers, and with the Administration and intelligence community, the new USA Freedom Act (S. 2685) isn’t perfect. It represents such a significant improvement over the House’s May bill and current law, however, that more than 40 civil liberties and business trade groups, ALA among them, endorsed the bill in a July 31 joint letter (initiated by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute) calling on the leaders of both the Senate and House to pass it without dilution or delay.
ALA also joined 20 other organizations in a second letter coordinated by OpentheGovernment.org calling upon Senate Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner to bring S. 2685 to an immediate vote in both bodies without weakening its important safeguards, particularly those that will make the intelligence community’s activities and the compelled assistance of communications companies more transparent to the public and Congressional watchdogs.
In a separate press statement, ALA Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff said:
Libraries and librarians are and have been on the front lines of the fight to preserve the Fourth Amendment and foster government transparency in a post 9/11 world. The new USA Freedom Act introduced today by Sen. Leahy and others, if passed, would finally allow judges to assess all “gag orders” that accompany every so-called National Security Letter, empower new Special Advocates to meaningfully champion civil liberties in FISA Court proceedings upon judicial request and, once and for all, end the dragnet collection of US citizens’ telephone records under the Patriot Act.
With all Members of Congress poised at this writing to return home for Congress’ August “work period,” the time is right for librarians and library supporters everywhere to let every Congressman and Senator know through their local offices that we need a new USA Freedom Act and we need it now.
In the coming weeks, please stay tuned to District Dispatch and watch for legislative alerts with more details about how you can help pass the first real privacy and surveillance law reforms since the Patriot Act undermined our civil liberties in 2001. The bottom line is simple. As ALA’s statement also said:
While more to protect privacy still needs to be done . . . the USA Freedom Act of 2014 deserves to be passed quickly by Congress and signed by the President without delay; thirteen years to begin to restore Americans’ privacy is long enough.