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Only we can demand more accountability

As news breaks that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been renewing (every three months for seven years) a Section 215 order to obtain phone records of all Verizon customers, the American Library Association is calling on Congress to provide more accountability and transparency about how the government is obtaining and using vast amounts of information about innocent people.

In a public hearing on Thursday morning, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) indicated that the order is just a “regular” renewal of an order that started seven years ago. We are gravely concerned, but unfortunately not surprised, at this week’s revelations.

“The library community welcomes a renewed public debate on how to balance the need to fight terrorism and the need to protect personal privacy and civil liberties,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. “Millions of innocent customers, at least Verizon’s, have had their personal phone records released to the government without their knowledge and without allegations of specific facts supporting the relevance of their records to a federal terrorism investigation.

“We must demand more accountability and transparency in all of these surveillance issues,” she added. “Our nation’s libraries are a tremendous information resource for those who want to better understand the issues and a place to begin debates about these issues”

Barbara Jones, Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said, “The lack of transparency is symptomatic of the growing trend in our secret laws and we must correct the flaws. Are these new revelations just the tip of the iceberg? Did other companies received such subpoenas and what other records has the government been obtaining on such a broad scale? What about library records and those of our users? The public needs to know.”

“Our community calls for public dialogue about how to open up FISA and other surveillance laws so that there can be true accountability and an improved balance between individual privacy and the need of government to investigate terrorism and other crimes, said Lynne Bradley, Director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations. “We need to make changes to our surveillance laws.”

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Lynne Bradley

Lynne Bradley is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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