Freedom to Read Foundation seeks Justice Department response

Contacts: Judith F. Krug


ALA News Release

For Immediate Release

November 15, 2002

Freedom to Read Foundation seeks Justice Department response

Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) today asked a federal court to order the Department of Justice to respond immediately to a
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
lawsuit seeking information on the government's use of extraordinary new surveillance powers granted to it by Congress last year. The
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) attorneys filed the lawsuit as attorneys for their organizations, the FTRF and the
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

After more than two weeks of negotiations with Justice Department lawyers failed to secure the government's cooperation with the legal request, FTRF and its partners filed legal papers today asking Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to order the Justice Department to disclose within seven days what relevant records it possesses and to release those records within 20 days. FTRF also asked the court to schedule oral arguments as quickly as possible. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia “It is distressing that Congress and the American people lack even the barest of information about how the government is using its expanded powers in libraries and bookstores,” said FTRF Executive Director Judith F. Krug.

The records requested concern the government's implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act, legislation that was passed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. By amending laws such as the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the
USA PATRIOT Act vastly expands the government's authority to obtain personal information about those living in the United States, including U.S. citizens.

The suit follows an August 21 FOIA request for the information, to which the U.S. Department of Justice did not reply. Some of the information also was previously sought by the House Judiciary Committee, which was initially rebuffed.
Committee Chair Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-WI), said the committee has now received some of the information in classified form.

David Sobel, general counsel to EPIC, emphasized that the FOIA request does not seek any information whose disclosure could compromise national security. “We are asking only for aggregate statistical data and other policy-level information,” he said. “The release of this information would not jeopardize ongoing investigations or undermine the government's ability to respond to new threats.”

For more information on the FOIA action, go to
ACLU Asks Court to Order Government to Immediately Account for its Use of Vast New Surveillance Powers.

The Freedom to Read Foundation is the First Amendment legal defense arm of the American Library Association (ALA). It was established to promote and defend the First Amendment; to foster libraries as institutions wherein every individual's First Amendment freedoms are fulfilled; and to support the right of libraries to include in their collections and make available any work they may legally acquire.