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House Judiciary Committee’s PATRIOT Act reform bill recharges debate

Jenni Terry
ALA Washington Office Press Officer

For Immediate Release
November 6, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s passage of the USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845) yesterday put Congress back on track to achieve comprehensive reform of our nation’s surveillance laws, say the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

“Chairman Conyers and other leaders in the House Judiciary Committee conducted a thorough, open debate of H.R. 3845,” ALA President Camila Alire said. “The weak bill the Senate released after closed-door negotiations would not provide library patrons with privacy online, but H.R. 3845 includes many provisions that will re-establish the balance between the needs of law enforcement and the rights of the American public.”

H.R. 3845 would restore reader privacy by curbing the use of secret court orders and National Security Letters to obtain library and bookstore records about innocent people. Other key protections in the bill include improved judicial review of investigations, new protections for librarians and others who receive gag orders from the government, and more oversight of how PATRIOT Act powers are being used.

The committee also approved an amendment from Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) expressing the sense of Congress that the President should periodically review secret surveillance programs to determine whether they should remain classified. The committee rejected several amendments that would have watered down or eliminated the bill’s civil liberties protections.

“We are grateful to the members of the House Judiciary Committee for reporting a bill that goes a long way toward restoring our civil liberties. We especially appreciate Mr. Nadler’s passionate defense of reader privacy during Wednesday’s mark-up,” said ARL President Brinley Franklin. “We urge the full House to pass these balanced reforms, and we hope the Senate will amend its bill to include similar provisions.”

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