The USA Patriot Act in the Library
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (“USA PATRIOT Act”) became law on October 26, 2001. The legislation originated with Attorney General John Ashcroft, who asked Congress for additional powers that he claimed were needed to fight terrorism in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001. Few amendments were made to Ashcroft’s initial proposal to Congress, and the bill became law without any hearings or markup by a Congressional committee.
The USA PATRIOT Act amended over 15 federal statutes, including the laws governing criminal procedure, computer fraud and abuse, foreign intelligence, wiretapping, immigration, and the laws governing the privacy of student records. These amendments expanded the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to business records, medical records, educational records and library records, including stored electronic data and communications. It also expanded the laws governing wiretaps and “trap and trace” phone devices to Internet and electronic communications. These enhanced surveillance procedures pose the greatest challenge to privacy and confidentiality in the library.
“The American Library Association (ALA) opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.” — For more information on the USA PATRIOT Act, contact Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Deputy Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom; Telephone: 800-545-2433, ext. 4224; Fax: 312-280-4227; firstname.lastname@example.org.