Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act became, and remains, known as the “library provision” of that law because of intense and ongoing librarian opposition to the sweeping power it grants the government to compel libraries, without a probable cause-based search warrant, to divulge personal patron reading and internet usage records, and to the “gag orders” associated with Section 215 and “National Security Letters” (NSLs) that impede judicial and public oversight of such activity.
Tonight, the House of Representatives will vote on the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, H.R. 2048 to finally ban the “bulk collection” of Americans’ personal communications records (library, telephone and otherwise) under Section 215. Critically, it also would preclude the use of other surveillance laws (related to “PEN registers”) and NSLs to get around that prohibition and would bring the “gag order” provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act into compliance with the First Amendment by permitting them to be meaningfully challenged in court.
The bill, not incidentally, also permits phone and internet companies to publish information (in a sufficiently specific form to be useful) about the number of requests they receive from the government to produce personal subscriber information. It also, for the first time, would create opportunities for specially cleared civil liberties advocates to appear before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that authorizes surveillance activities. The bill also makes important “first step” reforms to privacy-hostile provisions, including Section 702, of the FISA Amendments Act.
ALA and its many public and private sector coalition partners strongly support passage of H.R. 2048. That message was underscored by the more than 400 librarian lobbyists who took to Capitol Hill on May 5, during the American Library Association’s (ALA) National Library Legislative Day. They carried with them a stirring and emphatic OpEd urging real reform entitled “Long Lines for Freedom” by ALA President Courtney Young, which was published that morning in The Hill, a Congress-centric newspaper widely read by Members of Congress, their staffs and the national press.
While House passage of the USA FREEDOM Act is widely expected, its fate in the Senate is uncertain at best. Stay tuned for more on how you can help!
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