Conference committee ignores Americans' concerns over PATRIOT Act provisions

Contact: Bernadette Murphy, Press Officer
(202) 628-8410 ext. 8236

For Immediate Release:
November 16, 2005

Conference committee ignores Americans’ concerns over PATRIOT Act provisions

(WASHINGTON, DC) Today the American Library Association (ALA) expressed disappointment in a Congressional conference committee’s failure to adopt essential reader privacy provisions in legislation reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act and urged Congress to carefully consider provisions of the conference report before holding a vote. The library community has battled to restore protections to library records stripped away by the USA PATRIOT Act since the legislation passed in 2001.

Nationwide concern over PATRIOT provisions has grown exponentially in recent months. Resolutions against the Act have been passed by 389 communities in 43 states, including seven statewide resolutions. These communities represent approximately 62 million people who oppose sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite this widespread public outcry and reasonable proposals put forth in the Senate version of the reauthorization legislation, the conference committee voted today to retain many of the most controversial provisions of the legislation.

The conference committee extends the sunset for Section 215—the so-called “library provision”—from four to seven years. Section 215 allows the FBI to continue to search the library records of ordinary Americans who are not suspected of terrorism or espionage and requires no factual connection between the records sought and a foreign terrorist. It also leaves in place the diminished standards required for National Security Letters (NSLs) – administrative subpoenas that allow FBI agents, with no judicial review, to obtain the personal electronic records of ordinary Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The conference report further expands the NSL provision, including a criminal penalty for a recipient’s non-compliance and a gag order that effectively bars an NSL recipient in perpetuity from disclosing that he or she has received the order.

Earlier this year, a library consortium in Connecticut, identified in the media as Library Connection, brought suit against the FBI over its attempt to search library reading records using a National Security Letter. In September, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that the gag order accompanying the NSL provision was unconstitutional. The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI now issues 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase yearly since the PATRIOT Act was passed.

"It is regrettable that the committee did not take the opportunity to restore essential privacy protections to library reading records and respond to the concerns of millions of Americans over the vastly overreaching powers of the USA PATRIOT Act," said ALA President Michael Gorman. "We will remain vigilant and outspoken in our advocacy on behalf of the millions of people who use and depend on our nation's libraries."