It was mid-summer when Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the outgoing Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, answered the House of Representative’s passage of an unacceptably weak version of the USA FREEDOM Act by introducing S. 2685, a strong, bipartisan bill of his own. Well, it’s taken until beyond Veterans Day, strong lobbying by civil liberties groups and tech companies, and a tough stand by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but Leahy’s bill and real National Security Agency (NSA) reform may finally get an up or down vote in the just-opened “lame duck” session of the U.S. Senate. That result is very much up in the air, however, as this article goes to press.
Now is the time for librarians and others on the front lines of fighting for privacy and civil liberties to heed ALA President Courtney Young’s September call to “Advocate. Today.” And we do mean today. Here’s the situation:
Thanks to Majority Leader Reid, Senators will cast a key procedural vote late on Tuesday afternoon that is, in effect, “do or die” for proponents of meaningful NSA reform in the current Congress. If Senators Reid and Leahy, and all of us, can’t muster 60 votes on Tuesday night just to bring S. 2685 to the floor, then the overwhelming odds are–in light of the last election’s results–that another bill as good at reforming the USA PATRIOT Act as Senator Leahy’s won’t have a prayer of passage for many, many years.
Even if reform proponents prevail on Tuesday, however, our best intelligence is that some Senators will offer amendments intended to neuter or at least seriously weaken the civil liberties protections provided by Senator Leahy’s bill. Other Senators will try to strengthen the bill but face a steep uphill battle to succeed.
Soooooo….. now is the time for all good librarians (and everyone else) to come to the aid of Sens. Leahy and Reid, and their country. Acting now is critical . . . and it’s easy. Just click here to go to ALA’s Legislative Action Center. Once there, follow the user-friendly prompts to quickly find and send an e-mail to both of your U.S. Senators (well, okay, their staffs but they’ll get the message loud and clear) and to your Representative in the House. Literally a line or two is all you, and the USA FREEDOM Act, need. Tell ’em:
- The NSA’s telephone records “dragnet,” and “gag orders” imposed by the FBI without a judge’s approval, under the USA PATRIOT Act must end;
- Bring Sen. Leahy’s USA FREEDOM Act to the floor of the Senate now; and
- Pass it without any amendments that make it’s civil liberties protections weaker (but expanding them would be just fine) before this Congress ends!
Just as in the last election, in which so many races were decided by razor thin margins, your e-mail “vote” could be the difference between finally reforming the USA PATRIOT Act. . . or not. With the key vote on Tuesday night, there’s no time to lose. As President Young wrote: “Advocate. Today.”