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USA Patriot Act Challenged in Recent Court Decisions

As the Washington Post recently reported, several court decisions in the past few weeks have challenged the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act, several provisions of which ALA has long opposed for their potential intrusion on library records.

Most recently, a U.S. District Court judge in Portland, Oregon, ruled that the PATRIOT Act violates the Constitution because it “permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

This ruling comes only a few weeks after a September 6 ruling in a New York federal court that “struck down provisions allowing the FBI to obtain e-mail and telephone data from private companies without a court-issued warrant.”

When the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law, ALA – along with many other librarians as well as booksellers, authors and others – was deeply concerned about the lack of judicial oversight, as well as the secrecy associated with a number of the Act’s provisions and the National Security Letters (NSLs) in particular.

The FBI has claimed from the beginning that the need for secrecy in its surveillance activities not only outweighs the First Amendment right to free speech but also judiciary oversight. ALA firmly opposes the use of PATRIOT Act-sanctioned National Security Letters (NSLs) – specifically to obtain library records – and has urged immediate reforms of NSL procedures.

To read more about this subject, please see the District Dispatch’s Civil Liberties category.

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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