Review Group Report Calls for Limits on NSA Surveillance

December 20, 2013

By Elizabeth

On Wednesday, the White House released the report and recommendations of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, the board appointed by President Obama to review National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance practices. The 300+ page report includes 46 recommendations to reform government surveillance of online and telephone communications for the purposes of national security and suggests new limits on the NSA programs. The report comes after D.C. District Court judge Richard Leon ruled on Monday that the NSA’s program to collect bulk telephone metadata “almost certainly” violates the Fourth Amendment. Here are the highlights:

  • Bulk Collection under Section 215: The review group recommends that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act be “terminated as soon as reasonably practicable” stating, “as general rule…the government should not be permitted to collect and store all mass, undigested, non-public personal information about individuals to enable future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.” The group recommends instead that the NSA query records as they are maintained by phone companies or a private third party. Data could only be queried if a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court judge has determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought is relevant to an authorized terrorism or counter-intelligence operation, and that the order is reasonable in focus, scope and breadth. The report does not recommend that the phone companies be statutorily required to retain call record data.
  • National Security Letters: The review group report recommends tightening federal law enforcement’s use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by requiring authorities to obtain a prior “judicial finding” showing “reasonable grounds” that information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities. This recommendation is both surprising and promising in its breadth as it would essentially do away with NSLs in favor of court orders under the same standard recommended by the Review group for Section 215 orders.
  • Surveillance under Section 702: The review group recommends closing the “backdoor search loophole” by prohibiting the government from searching information acquired pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for information about a particular U.S. person without a court order. The report also recommends immediate deletion of any information about U.S. persons acquired under Section 702 that does relate to foreign intelligence, and recommends prohibiting use of any information about U.S. persons acquired under Section 702 from being used in any criminal proceedings.

The report also recommends greater public disclosure of the use of Section 215, Section 702 and NSL authorities; the creation of a Public Interest Advocate to represent privacy and civil liberties interests before the FISA Court; and reform of FISA Court procedures, including release of FISC opinions where practicable.

We were pleased to see the group advocate for such significant reform of surveillance practices and we urge both Congress and the White House to heed their call. Many of the recommendations of the review group align with provisions included in Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wisc.) USA FREEDOM Act (new advocacy one-pager from Government Relations Committee chair Susan Nevelow Mart and Marlene Harmon is available here), which AALL strong supports.  Senator Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that he has invited the members of the review group to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. We will keep you updated as more information develops.

White House Releases Ambitious Second National Action Plan on Open Government

December 13, 2013

By Elizabeth

Late last week, the White House released its second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (NAP), setting forth 23 new or expanded commitments in open government for Administration to undertake in the remainder of President Obama’s term. The Open Government Partnership was established in July 2011 as a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance, with more than 60 member-nations today. The United States released its first Open Government National Action Plan in September 2011 and since that time, AALL has worked closely with a number of open government groups to evaluate its contents and implementation and to make recommendations for the second plan.

As we previously reported, the second NAP includes commitments to open data, increasing fiscal and corporate transparency, advancing citizen engagement, more effectively managing public resources, and modernizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Other new and notable commitments include to “transform the security classification system” based on the principle that “classification must… be kept to the minimum required to meet national security needs….” To that end, the Administration will establish a new interagency Classification Review Committee as recommended by the Public Interest Declassification Board last year. On his Secrecy News blog, Steven Aftergood offers an analysis. New declassification tools, including new document analysis and monitoring systems, could help work through a massive backlog of requests. The inclusion of surveillance issues in the second NAP is also noteworthy in light of the Administration’s position on the Snowden leaks and NSA disclosure. In the plan, the White House pledges to “increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities” by releasing annual public reports on the government’s use of “certain national security authorities.” These reports will include the total number of orders issued during the prior twelve-month period and the number of targets affected by them. The Director of National Intelligence will also continue to review and, where appropriate, declassify information related to foreign intelligence surveillance programs, per the second NAP. Finally, the White House also pledges to consult with stakeholders and seek input from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure an appropriate balance between the protection of privacy and national security interests.

While not revolutionary, the second National Action Plan is an important and ambitious commitment to transparent and accountable government. AALL applauds this next step and looks forward to working with the Administration and other open government advocates on the implementation of these ideals.

AALL GRC Seeks Nominations for 2014 PAGI and Oakley Advocacy Awards

December 10, 2013

Each year, AALL recognizes individuals and/or groups with our Public Access to Government Information (PAGI) and Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Awards. If you would like to nominate an individual or group for one or both of these prestigious awards, please send your nominations to Government Relations Committee chair Susan Nevelow Mart by February 1, 2014.


AALL Public Access to Government Information (PAGI) Award

Since 1999, AALL has presented the PAGI Award annually to recognize individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to protect and promote greater public access to government information.

Past recipients include Aaron Swartz, awarded posthumously, Internet Activist, co-founder of Demand Progress (2013); Michele Timmons, Revisor of Statutes, Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes and Chair of the Drafting Committee for the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (2012); Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) (2011); the Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell Law School (2010); the Sunlight Foundation (2009); and Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMB Watch (2008).

Recipients of the PAGI award may be any individual or organization. Members of the Government Relations Office of AALL are not eligible. Judging criteria includes:

  • A contribution that significantly improves public access to government information, thereby increasing the public’s knowledge about the workings of government. The award is given in accordance with AALL’s mission to provide leadership in the field of legal information and to promote equal access to government information. The award will reflect this by honoring the achievements of those who have championed public access.
  • The extent to which the individual or organization has had a positive impact on protecting and promoting public access to governmental information.
  • The extent to which the effort advances the AALL mission and Government Relations Policy.

Please visit the PAGI award page for further details.

Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Award

Established in 2008, the Oakley Advocacy Award is given to recognize an AALL member or group for outstanding advocacy work contributing significantly to the AALL policy agenda at the federal, state, local, or international level. The award honors the memory of Robert L. Oakley, AALL’s Washington affairs representative from 1989-2007, who received the first award posthumously in 2008.

Additional past recipients include Timothy L. Coggins, Associate Dean for Library and Information Services & Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law Library, Richmond, VA (2013); Barbara Bintliff, Reporter for the Drafting Committee for the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (2012); Joan Bellistri, Director and Law Librarian, Anne Arundel County Public Law Library in Annapolis, MD (2011); the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries (ORALL) County Law Library Special Interest Group (2010); and Richard J. McKinney, Assistant Law Librarian, Federal Reserve Board Law Library (2009).

AALL members and groups, with the exception of current members of the Government Relations Committee, are eligible for this award. Nominees must have made a significant contribution to the advocacy agenda of the Association.  Judging criteria includes:

  • A significant contribution to the advocacy agenda of the Association. The award is given in accordance with AALL’s mission to provide leadership in the field of legal information and to promote equal access to government information. The award will reflect this by honoring the achievements of those who have been especially energetic or effective advocates of this mission.
  • The extent to which the individual or group has been an active advocate for law libraries and legal information at the federal, state, or local level.
  • The extent to which the advocacy advances the AALL mission and Government Relations Policy.

Additional details are available on the Oakley award page.

Both awards will be presented during the Annual Public Policy Update at the 2014 AALL Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX. To learn more about the PAGI and Oakley awards as well as the advocacy work of the Government Relations Committee and the Government Relations Office, please visit the GRO homepage on AALLNET.

AALL Calls for ECPA Reform on National Day of Action

December 5, 2013

By Elizabeth

Today, AALL is joining a broad spectrum of organizations in a day of action to call for reform of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA), the federal law that governs standards for government access to private information that is transmitted and stored on the Internet. Since it was authored in 1986, ECPA has not been updated to reflect the immense changes in technology that have taken place, resulting in a law that fails to provide necessary privacy protections for electronic communications.  It’s time to update ECPA so that the law protects the digital privacy rights of today’s citizens, including library users.  As a member of the Digital Due Process coalition, a diverse group of companies, public interest groups and library associations, AALL urges reform to ECPA that would restore a fair balance between the privacy rights of citizens and the legitimate needs of law enforcement in the digital age.

You can join us today by adding your name to the tens of thousands who have signed on to this petition to the White House calling for support for sensible ECPA reform. 

AALL will continue to advocate for stronger privacy protections for communications in response to changes in technology, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public. For more information on AALL’s position on ECPA, see our Advocacy One-Pager.

AALL Urges FCC to Provide Permanent Public Access to Legal Materials

December 5, 2013

By Elizabeth

In response to Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s call for input on how the agency can more efficiently and effectively serve the public interest, AALL has joined with several organizations and individuals to urge the Commission to make those primary legal materials and publicly available comments hosted exclusively on their website additionally available through the Government Printing Office (GPO)’s FDsys. As noted in a letter sent this week and signed by AALL, the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law and Policy Clinic, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Special Libraries Association, law librarians Susan Nevelow Mart* and Jane Thompson of Colorado Law, and James Jacobs of Free Government Information (FGI), doing so would facilitate continued public access in the event of another government shutdown or other circumstances that may force the Commission’s website offline. The Commission stands not only to improve the public’s access to official government information and ability to participate in governmental processes during periods of crisis, but to serve as a model for other agencies to implement the principles of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative.

As AALL described in our recent letter to GPO, during the October government shutdown, members of the public were denied access to content on federal agency websites, including primary legal materials available exclusively on the FCC website, orders not yet published in the FCC Record, and public comments available exclusively on the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and other Commission systems. As such, librarians and patrons who needed to find resources maintained by federal agencies were often stymied. In contrast, FDsys remained accessible during the shutdown, affording the public access to authentic government information such as the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, and bills and laws. By partnering with GPO to make primary legal materials and comments accessible through the FDsys, the FCC will ensure permanent public access to its essential materials.  Doing so will allow the public to stay informed and continue to participate in the democratic process, even in times of crisis.

*Susan Nevelow Mart serves as the current chair of AALL’s Government Relations Committee.

December Washington E-Bulletin

December 2, 2013

The December issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is now available on AALLNET.


Vol. 2013, Issue 12





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