The time is long past for Section 215 to be meaningfully reformed to restore the civil liberties massively and unjustifiably compromised by the USA PATRIOT Act.
~~ALA President Courtney Young
Very nearly from the day the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law in 2001, librarians raised concerns about the scope of surveillance authorized under the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. In particular, librarians protested the low or non-existent legal thresholds for obtaining Section 215 court orders and the lack of judicial review for secret subpoenas that provided federal agents with the authority to obtain records and information about individuals’ most sensitive First Amendment activities, seeing an enormous potential for abuse in such broad authority to peer into individuals’ lives. The 2013 revelation that the PATRIOT Act and similar laws were used to justify mass surveillance of innocent U.S. citizens’ digital communications confirmed librarians’ fears about the law.
As a result, the American Library Association continues to support legislation that amends or repeals those portions of the USA PATRIOT Act that pose a threat to library users’ civil liberties and right to privacy.
This week, May 4 – 8, 2015, the ALA Washington Office is calling on librarians, library trustees, library patrons, and library supporters to participate in Virtual Library Legislative Day during the week of May 4 by calling and/or emailing their elected officials on May 5, or any time the week of May 4-8.
Currently, the ALA is urging passage of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, which bans the “bulk collection” of Americans’ personal communications records under the pen register statutes and National Security Letters; brings the “gag order” provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act into compliance with the First Amendment; and makes important “first step” reforms to privacy-hostile provisions, including Section 702, of the FISA Amendments Act.
ALA also urges passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Amendments Act (S. 356) and Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) which would bring about real reform to the ECPA (last revised in the 1986, long before the internet and digital communications were a reality.) The reforms would require government authorities to get a warrant to compel access to the emails, documents, photos, texts, and other files that comprise Americans’ “digital lives,” whether on the network or stored for an indefinite period of time. (H.R. 699 already has been cosponsored by a bipartisan super-majority of all Members of the House, as it was in the 113th Congress). Full information can be found in the ALA Washington Office’s privacy and surveillance issue brief (.doc download); you can communicate with your Congressional representatives via this link.
ALA actively works with coalitions like Fight 215! and Digital Due Process to end mass suspicionless surveillance and oppose legislation that: effectively creates new, or expands existing, government surveillance authorities.