Last December, Congress approved a 60-day extension of the expiring three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including Section 215 (the “library provision”). While intended to give Congress more time to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, the new February 28 deadline approached quickly without time for debate.
On February 24, the Senate voted by unanimous consent for an additional one-year extension of the three provisions, and the House quickly followed on February 25, approving the measure 315-97. On February 27, President Obama signed the one-year extension into law, putting off the possibility for meaningful reform for another year.
AALL strongly opposed the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, as well as the reauthorization in 2005, because the bills lacked privacy safeguards and civil liberties protections. We were disappointed with the renewal of the three provisions last month because we believe there needs to be a higher standard for issuing Section 215 orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) to protect library users from intrusive government surveillance.
We had supported bills in the House, the USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845), and Senate, the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act of 2009 (S. 1686), which would have raised the standard for issuing Section 215 orders and NSLs to more adequately protect library users, and added reporting and oversight requirements to ensure greater accountability.
We also supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) reauthorization bill, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009 (S. 1692), as introduced. However, we were very disappointed with amendments approved by the committee when it favorably reported S. 1692 in October because they severely weakened the higher standard for library records that was in the original bill.
As the new February 28, 2011 sunset date approaches, AALL will continue to promote the need for increased protections for libraries. For more information, please read our Issue Brief, “2009-2010 Reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”
[Posted by Emily Feldman]