Privacy (including USA PATRIOT ACT)

[last update: 2 October 2003]


Privacy encompasses a broad range of issues based upon long-standing ALA policies related to the confidentiality of library users' records.  The right to privacy is essential for the exercise of the right to free inquiry.  A library patron should be free to read or access any information without having the subject of one's interest examined or scrutinized by others. To this end, librarians work to protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and all resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS:  Intellectual Freedom, Equity of Access
RELATED ISSUES: Internet Content Issues, Freedom to Read & Freedom of Expression, Professional Ethics



  • ALA will continue to identify and fight additional legislative initiatives that threaten the historic protections given to library records.  An example currently pending in the House is H.R. 3037, the Antiterrorist Tools Enhancement Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL).  Introduced on September 9, this bill would expand the FBI's authority to obtain records without asking permission from a court of law.  It would allow federal agents to issue administrative subpoenas compelling the turnover of any record the agent, at his or her discretion, deemed relevant or material to an investigation into terrorism or espionage, without any judicial review.  In addition, at the election of the Attorney General, these subpoenas could be subject to the same type of "gag order" as a FISA search warrant issued under Section 215.


  • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
  • ALA Washington Office/Office for Government Relations
  • ALA Washington Office/Office for Information Technology Policy
  • ALA Divisions


  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • American Booksellers' Foundation for Free Expression
  • Association of American Publishers
  • Bill of Rights Defense Committee (national and local groups)
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • People for the American Way
  • Media Coalition


  • 1948 - ALA Council approved a resolution opposing the "abuse" of loyalty investigations.
  • 1970 - ALA opposed the U.S. Treasury Department's attempt to use library circulation records as a means of identifying potential suspects following a series of campus bombings.
  • 1971 - ALA Council adopted the "Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records."
  • 1987-1991 - ALA led efforts to end the FBI's "Library Awareness Program," which sought to use library employees to track the research activities of persons identified by the FBI as possible "security threats" to the U.S.. ALA Council approved a resolution calling for "immediate cessation" (1988) and ALA joined the FTRF in a FOIA suit to obtain "full documentation" of the program (1988).
  • 1990 - A Taskforce on Privacy and Confidentiality was formed.  Their final report urged ALA to strengthen existing statements in such areas as "pervasive gathering of 'marketing information' and the 'tracking of online usage by third parties." ALA was urged to revise existing policies to include Internet privacy.
  • 1991 - ALA Council approved the "Policy Concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information About Library Users."
  • 2000 - The Intellectual Freedom Committee established a standing Privacy Subcommittee in order to monitor ongoing privacy developments in technology, politics and legislation, and social trends; to identify needs and resources for librarians and library users; to propose action to the IFC on resolutions, policies, and guidelines as well as on educational, informational, ad promotional projects; and to collaborate with other groups as directed by the IFC.
  • 2001 - ALA supported the Feingold amendments to the USA Patriot Act.
  • 2002 - ALA Council adopted " Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights."


Issue Summaries

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