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Contact: Bernadette Murphy
Washington Communications Director
(202) 628-8410 x. 8236
For Immediate Release:
August 25, 2005

FBI used PATRIOT Act’s administrative subpoena to get library records in Connecticut

(WASHINGTON) Today the ACLU revealed that the FBI has used Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain electronic library records at an institution in Connecticut whose identity cannot be disclosed because of constraints imposed by the PATRIOT Act. This is the further evidence that the FBI is indeed using provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain library patron reading records, an activity the American Library Association (ALA) has fought since the passage of the legislation in 2001.


ALA has argued that Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act gives the FBI overly broad authority to use a National Security Letter (NSL), an administrative subpoena which requires no judicial oversight, to secretly obtain the electronic library records of any person – whether or not that person is suspected of a crime - without any standard for protecting individual privacy.  Records searched could include all the websites visited and all the e-mail sent and received by anyone who used the library's computers. Such open-ended fishing expeditions expose all library users to the search and seizure of their records and to the invasion of their privacy. A gag order accompanies the NSL that prevents its recipient from disclosing that a demand for records has been received.


   “The Connecticut case illustrates exactly why ALA continues to fight sections of the PATRIOT Act that allow the government to secretly search the records of ordinary citizens without any judicial oversight,” said ALA Immediate Past President Carol Brey-Casiano. “Despite the Justice Department’s repeated assertions that it has no interest in Americans’ reading records, this case again proves that the government is demanding patron information from America’s libraries” she continued.


In 2004, a federal district court judge held that NSLs gave the FBI unchecked authority to obtain records from electronic communications service providers, including libraries, "without any judicial oversight or opportunity for challenge.” In striking down the provision, the judge found that the secret administrative subpoenas violated the fourth amendment because they "effectively bar or substantially deter any judicial challenge to the NSL." It further found that even if judicial review were provided, the gag order violated the First Amendment because it represented "a prior restraint on speech that was sweeping in scope" and appeared to apply "in perpetuity."


   Two bills reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act have passed in the House and Senate and will go to conference next month. The Senate bill, S. 1389 (the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005), adds many of the safeguards for privacy of reading records that have been sought by ALA since the passage of the law, including tougher requirements for searching library records under Section 215 and an opportunity to challenge an NSL as violating a Constitutional or legal right and to challenge the gag order. The House Bill (H.R. 3199 – The USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005) does not include improved reader privacy protections. ALA is encouraging Conferees to vote for the Senate bill.