Concessions won on PATRIOT Act renewal
The nation’s librarians and other interested parties won some important concessions in 2006 in their battle against renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. Of particular concern was Section 215, which infringes on library patron privacy and civil liberties by allowing the FBI to issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to any person or entity, ordering them to turn over “any tangible things” so long as it specifies that the order is “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” Those served with Section 215 orders were flatly prohibited from disclosing that fact to anyone else.
After months of negotiations, filibusters and extended deadlines, President Bush signed a PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill into law in March, one day before the latest of several extensions expired. The reauthorized law included more restrictive standards under which the FBI can issue NSLs and gave NSL recipients the right to challenge the gag provision after one year. Also, Section 215 was reauthorized only until Dec. 31, 2009, itself a victory because the government had sought a 10-year renewal.
At its 2006 Annual Conference, the ALA celebrated that and a subsequent victory — the lifting later that spring of the 2005 gag order against the Library Connection, Inc., a nonprofit consortium of libraries in Connecticut, and the withdrawal of the only known NSL delivered to a library.
In a program called “Meet John Doe,” four librarians on the Library Connection executive board described their frustration at being targets of an NSL that demanded computer records for one of their member libraries — and at being forbidden to talk about it. The four received a standing ovation.
Among the active players in the PATRIOT Act negotiations was the Campaign for Reader Privacy, which includes the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, PEN American Center and the ALA.
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