Legislative Action in San Antonio

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Tanzi Sutton

The ALA Council Committee on Legislation is responsible for the Association’s legislative program and recommends legislative policy for approval by the Council. The committee is being kept very busy by potential policy issues that could greatly affect libraries, including telecommunication policy, copyright and fair use issues, government information, and the PATRIOT Act and privacy. The committee addressed all of these important legislative issues and passed several resolutions at the Midwinter conference in San Antonio.

Talk in Congress indicates that both Universal Service and the E-Rate program may be in danger of being cut or eliminated. Both of these programs have been very important in making broadband access affordable for libraries and educational institutions. The Committee on Legislation passed a resolution that will be sent to Council for approval that urges Congress to protect these programs as they reform the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Copyright issues have become a concern on more than just the national level. International copyright policies are beginning to have an effect on intellectual property issues and access to information in the United States. One of the issues of concern regards the European Commission Directive on Database Protection. Under this directive, collections of facts, information that in the United States is in the public domain, is protected by one of two rights. When the creator of the database has put a good deal of creative effort into building a database, the database qualifies for copyright protection. When the creator cannot prove creativity but can prove that a substantial effort was put into the creation of the database, it can be protected under a right called “sui generis.” This directive could have an impact on the freedom of individuals to access and use basic facts in the same way that copyrighted works are protected in the United States. ALA has stated their opposition to this directive, and the directive is also being addressed by IFLA’s Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters. A good introduction to the directive can be found at  http://www.iusmentis.com/databases/crashcourse/rights/.

The E-Government Act of 2002 was passed to promote the use of the Internet to make accessible and preserve government information. The Office of Management and Budget was charged with creating the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI) and the task of adopting standards for organization and categorization of government information so that it is searchable electronically across agencies. A working group of the ICGI was established and presented seven recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget, but the recommendations have not been followed and government information has not been made accessible as required by the original act. The Committee on Legislation passed a resolution calling for a congressional hearing on the on the manner in which the Office of Management and Budget is handling its responsibility in the implementation of the E-Government Act of 2002.

The PATRIOT Act has been the top issue for the Committee on Legislation since it was first introduced. Sections of the PATRIOT Act are due for reauthorization. The Committee on Legislation passed a resolution urging Congress to amend Section 215 of the act to more adequately protect the privacy of individuals. Changes called for in the resolution include items that would limit the FBI’s ability to engage in fishing expeditions, and would require more substantial proof that the information is needed as well as requiring the item requested be specific.

These are just a few of the items that remain on the agenda of the Committee on Legislation. For more information on the legislative activities of ALA, consult the ALA Washington Office site at  http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/wo/index.cfm. Updates on legislation of concern can be sent to you by subscribing to the ALAWON mailing list.