Policy discussions continue at ALA Annual Conference in Vegas

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More than 19,000 librarians, vendors and library supporters attended this year’s 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, which took place in Las Vegas from June 26-July 1, 2014. Large numbers of attendees participated in ten policy sessions hosted by the ALA Washington Office that explored net neutrality, copyright trends, ebook access, e-government services and surveillance.

On Saturday, conference attendees gathered to hear details on the upcoming national election season from former Virginia Senator Jim Webb during the Washington Update session. Named a “potential presidential candidate” by The Washington Post, Webb has served as a combat Marine, a counsel in the Congress, an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, an Emmy-award winning journalist, an accomplished filmmaker, and an author of ten books. During his talk, Sen. Webb discussed his congressional experience and interest in foreign affairs.

“Public libraries…play such a valuable role today in opening up the world we have been given …to people who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity,” said Webb.

At the end of the session, Sen. Webb signed copies of his new book, “I Heard My Country Calling.”

During other ALA Washington Office sessions, publishing and library experts discussed the best ways libraries can bring together authors and readers in the digital age. In one session, Gigi Sohn, special counsel for the Federal Communications Commission’s External Affairs, discussed the dynamics of today’s net neutrality debates. In another session, a panel of surveillance and library experts discussed the challenges and implications of the government’s invasive surveillance practices.

Posted in e-books, Network Neutrality, OGR, OITP Tagged with: , , ,

When the watchdog whimpers: new report proposes no legal fixes for NSA’s warrantless “702” surveillance program

Created as an independent federal agency by Congress in 2007 to safeguard the public’s privacy and civil liberties in the wake of 9/11, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has just adopted and published its second major report on the most invasive government surveillance programs.

The first, released in January of 2014, virtually growled its disapproval of the “bulk collection” of telephone metadata of millions of Americans under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which it criticized as highly intrusive and largely ineffective in promoting national security.  The Board’s second report was approved and released today. According to ALA coalition partner experts at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, this second effort is as “anemic” when it comes to protecting personal privacy as the first was robust. In “Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” for example:

The board skips over the essential privacy problem with the . . . program: that the government has access to or is acquiring nearly all communications that travel over the Internet. The board focuses only on the government’s methods for searching and filtering out unwanted information. This ignores the fact that the government is collecting and searching through the content of millions of emails, social networking posts, and other Internet communications, steps that occur before the PCLOB analysis starts.

Further, despite the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, the Board essentially endorses the use of general warrants to search through the content of unimaginable numbers of communications of millions of Americans in broad pursuit of “foreign intelligence” here and abroad.  The report “takes no position” on the NSA’s claimed exception to the warrant requirement when the government seeks foreign intelligence.  As EFF notes, “The Supreme Court has never found this exception.”

Concluding that the sweeping Section 702 program is “clearly authorized by Congress, reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and an extremely valuable and effective intelligence tool,” PCLOB doesn’t propose a single legislative change to better protect Americans’ privacy in its new report.   Rather, the Board suggests that the NSA voluntarily adopt a number of “procedures” intended to increase transparency and accountability.

Not good enough.  As ALA Washington Office executive director, Emily Sheketoff, made clear in a press statement this morning:

“While we respect the Board’s efforts, its recommendations are a serious disappointment.  Weaker than many Congressional calls for action to reform Section 702 from across the political spectrum, and at odds in part with respected jurists, PCLOB’s recommendations should be considered an absolute floor for 702 reform and a spur to immediate and broad legislative expansion. ALA’s 57,000 members will continue to fight for nothing less.”

Sign up now for more information about how you can help push critical Section 702 reforms through the House and give them wings in the Senate.

Further Background

Report: Oversight Board Finds Little Wrong With NSA Surveillance Program, Wired July 2, 2014

Government Privacy Watchdog Signs Off on Much of NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Program, ACLU Blog July 2, 2014

Posted in Cybersecurity, Intellectual Freedom, Legislation, Library Advocacy, OGR, Privacy & Surveillance

Vermont State Librarian testifies on the importance of an open internet at Senate hearing

Today, Vermont State Librarian Martha Reid voiced(pdf) the concerns of our nation’s libraries about the importance of an open Internet at a U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary field hearing. Led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in support of network neutrality, the hearing “Preserving an Open Internet: Rules to Promote Competition and Protect Main Street Consumers” took place in Burlington, Vt.

Vermont is one of many states where public libraries are often the only place in town to offer free Internet access and they are the go-to places for job seekers, independent learners, researchers and local entrepreneurs.

Speaking before an audience that included many from the Vermont library community, Reid said, “We are united in our belief that an Open Internet is essential to our nation’s freedom of speech, educational achievement, economic vitality, and equal access to information. An Open Internet is fundamental for libraries to fulfill their mission to provide students, teachers and faculty and the general public equal access to information and to the wide variety of resources and opportunities made available via the Internet.”

National studies show that citizens often choose to use public library Internet and Wi-Fi – even if they have it at home. During the hearing, Reid used an example from Readsboro, Vt., a small town where a local entrepreneur with a home-based business started to work at the public library because the library internet fiber connection is fast and efficient. Videoconferencing, distance learning, job searches, resume and career development. In the past year, 14 Vermont public libraries have launched no-fee community videoconferencing services.

American Library Association (ALA) Immediate Past President Barbara Stripling echoed Reid’s testimony in a press statement, noting that the preservation of the free flow of information is critical to an informed society. “ALA agrees with my colleague, Martha Reid, when she says it is ’the right of citizens to have access to information, including that which may be controversial, is a hallmark of our democracy and of libraries. Currently, the Internet is freely and equitably accessible to all. And it needs to stay that way.’”

Just days before the Senate hearing, leadership at the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas passed an organizational resolution supporting network neutrality.

Posted in Network Neutrality, OGR, OITP Tagged with: , , ,

ALA supports “CORE Act” to expand access to learning resources and school libraries

The American Library Association (ALA) applauds the leadership of Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sherrod Brown (OH-D) and Representative Marcia Fudge (OH-D) for introducing the “Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence (CORE) Act” (S. 2557/H.R. 5001). The legislation aims to address existing disparities in public education by establishing accountability requirements for states and school districts.

Today, Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office, announced support of the CORE Act and called upon library supporters to contact their legislators to cosponsor the bills with Rep. Fudge and Sens. Reed and Brown.

“We applaud legislators Rep. Fudge and Sens. Reed and Brown for recognizing the role school libraries play in the lives of our nation’s students,” said Sheketoff.

Effective school library programs and the inclusion of school librarians in high quality instruction teams are two of the key provision in the bills. Other provisions include:

  • Equitable and instructionally appropriate class sizes;
  • Up-to-date instructional materials, technology, and supplies;
  • School facilities and technology, including physically and environmentally sound buildings and well-equipped instruction spaces; and
  • Effective family and community engagement programs.
Posted in Legislation, OGR, School Libraries

ALA joins others in supporting transparency

The American Library Association (ALA) recently joined other civil liberties groups, Internet activists and nonprofits in supporting the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, a bill introduced to increase the public’s ability to access to government records via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). On Thursday, a coalition of advocacy groups sent an open letter (pdf) to Congress, welcoming the new bill.

Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said that “passage of the FOIA Improvement Act would be a significant step toward the Administration’s promise of an ‘unprecedented’ level of government openness.”

The legislation, which was introduced in the Senate, requires agencies to weigh the public interest in the release of a requested document and of make it clear that the exemption does not cover records that are more than 25 years old.

Read the full letter

Posted in Government Information, OGR Tagged with: ,

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