For immediate release | August 16, 2011

ALA Council continues opposition to use of Section 215 of Patriot Act and use of National Security Letters to violate reader privacy

NEW ORLEANS – The American Library Association (ALA) Council passed a resolution continuing its opposition to the use of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and the use of National Security Letters to violate reader privacy.

In addition, the resolution calls for continuing to support reforms that protect reader privacy and civil liberties, especially the freedom to read without fear of government surveillance.

It also supports the passage of legislation that includes such reforms as heightened protections for library and bookseller records, judicial review of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders, National Security Letters (NSLs) and their associated gag orders and the sunset of the USA PATRIOT Act’s NSL authorities, as proposed in the USA PATRIOT Act Improvements Bill.

It also expressed its thanks and appreciation to the members of Congress who work to protect reader privacy.

The Council stated that freedom of thought is the most basic of all freedoms and is inextricably linked to the free and open exchange of knowledge and information. These freedoms can be preserved only in a society in which privacy rights are rigorously protected.

The ALA is committed to preserving the free and open exchange of knowledge and information and the privacy rights of all library users, library employees, and the general public. It also opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information.

The Council, in its resolution, which was passed June 28 at the ALA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, stated that the USA PATRIOT ACT includes provisions such as Sections 215 and 505 that threaten such free and open exchange of knowledge and information.

It especially pointed out that Section 215 allows the government to request and obtain library records secretly for large numbers of individuals without any reason to believe they are involved in illegal activity. Also, Section 505 permits the FBI to obtain records from libraries with National Security Letters (NSLs) without prior judicial oversight. Both sections automatically impose a nondisclosure or gag order on the recipients, thereby impairing the reporting of abuse of governmental authority and abrogating the recipients’ First Amendment rights.

The resolution notes that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court issued more than 220 Section 215 orders between 2005 and 2007, some of which may have been issued to libraries.

A recent Department of Justice report on surveillance activities for 2010 disclosed a dramatic increase in surveillance of Americans between 2009 and 2010, with the government more than quadrupling its use of section 215 orders compared to 2009; and the FBI more than doubling the number of US persons it surveilled with NSLs, requesting 24,287 NSLs on 14,212 people (up from 14,788 NSLs on 6,114 people in 2009). The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Justice reported the issuance of 234,043 NSLs under Section 505 between 2003-2008, at least one of which was issued for library user records.

Despite ALA repeatedly calling on Congress to institute reforms to the USA PATRIOT Act that protect reader privacy and rescind the nondisclosure or gag orders on the recipients of Section 215 and 505 orders for library user records – and despite efforts of Congress to introduce such legislation as the Freedom to Read Protection Act, the National Security Letters Reform Act and the USA PATRIOT Act Improvements Bill – Congress reauthorized Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act without any reforms and extended the sunset provision until June 1, 2015.

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 61,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.


Steve Zalusky