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Senate Judiciary Committee passes weakened S. 1692

With three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire on December 31, 2009, the Senate began the process of reauthorization legislation in September, beginning with the introduction of, S. 1686, the JUSTICE Act introduced by Senators Feingold (D-WI) and Durban (D-IL).   Chairman Leahy and Sens. Cardin and Kaufman introduced. S. 1692, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009, a bill to reauthorize the expiring provisions on September 22, 2009.   The three sections scheduled to sunset include Section 215 on “business records” often referred to as the “library provision.”

Hours before the first scheduled mark-up on October 1st, a bill negotiated by Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT-D) and Dianne Feinstein (CA-D) was substituted in place of the original S. 1692, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009, introduced by Leahy on September 22.  Although there was no public statement of support, it was clear that behind the scenes the White House and/or the Department of Justice knew about, and likely supported, the “Feinstein” version of S. 1692.

Although several senators attempted a number of amendments, none of the amendments that would have improved protection of our civil liberties was passed.  Senators Feingold and Durbin should be thanked for their repeated attempts to improve S. 1692 and to argue for protecting our constitution rights. The substitute bill substantially weakened the reforms the library community has sought relevant to Sec. 215 and national security letters.

There is a provision in the amended version of S. 1692 that slightly raises the legal standard to obtain a Section 215 order for “library circulation records or patron lists” — a very narrow definition.  This “fix” does not address “reader privacy” as a whole, so unfortunately bookstores are not covered in this provision.  Further, the provision only addresses 215 orders and does nothing for increasing the legal standards for national security letters which are far more troubling.  The substitute “Feinstein” bill was passed by the Judiciary Committee with an 11 to 8 vote at the second markup on October 8th.

It is unclear when the bill will go to the Senate floor for a final vote.  Both the health care legislation and financial reform proposals are supposedly in the agenda queue ahead of S. 1692.  However, with the December 31st sunset deadline, there needs to be a vote within the next two months.  ALA is monitoring the Senate activities and has started to work with allies in the House and with our coalitions to develop a better House bill.  Stay tuned.

For more detailed reports see these sources:

  • Previous ALA reports in District Dispatch.
  • President of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), Leslie Harris’ blog.
  • News report on Vermont librarians comments on Leahy’s actions and his response.

Next steps: full Senate and House of Representatives

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

One Comment

  1. […] Several provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire at the end of 2009.  There were several pieces of legislation introduced in Congress to reauthorize the Act with some amendments.  Most notably, the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009 (S 1692) passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It is not clear when this or any bill will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.  For commentary on S 1692 from the American Library Association’s Washington Office, see the October 13th District Dispatch posting. […]

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