On Data Privacy Day, ECPA Stands Frozen in Time

January 28, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Today is Data Privacy Day, the annual event aimed at drawing attention to the importance of protecting privacy on the Internet. And guess what? The law that protects the privacy of your online communications and that of your library patrons from government intrusion, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), has still not been updated since it was authored in 1986.

ECPA was passed into law at time when people did not have laptops, did not utilize the cloud, or did not generally use email. Of course, lawmakers did not anticipate the technological advancements of the decades to come, let alone establish the appropriate protections needed to accommodate them. How could they have? The rules governing your online privacy are older than the Web itself. While technology has advanced at a rapid pace, electronic privacy law has remained at a standstill. Without reform, the kind of electronic communications and records that are common today— think any email, Facebook posts, search history, cloud computing documents, cell phone location information, or text messages older than 180 days— can be freely seized without a warrant.

In the last Congress, efforts to update ECPA received broad, bipartisan support, but ultimately stalled. The House bill, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852), even gained a majority 272 co-sponsors, but was never awarded floor time because one federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked to keep the bill from coming to fruition.

We anticipate last year’s sponsors will introduce their legislation to update ECPA shortly, and we have urged members the Senate and House to move swiftly to advance the bills. It has been 29 years since ECPA was enacted. Reform is long overdue and there is no better time to focus on the need to protect individuals’ privacy online than on Data Privacy Day.

“Understanding the Federal Budget Process” Feb. 11 Online Advocacy Training

January 23, 2015

Does the federal budget process seem like an insiders’ game? You don’t have to be a policy wonk to understand the budget cycle and its impact on libraries! Join the Government Relations Office staff for a 30 minute online advocacy training to learn about the budget process and how you can make a difference for libraries and your community.

“Understanding the Federal Budget Process”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

12:00 – 12:30 pm EST

Register here.

Director of Government Relations Emily Feltren and Public Policy Associate Elizabeth Holland will walk you through the twists and turns of the federal budget process and help you understand where your voice is needed most. We’ll help demystify the budget process by answering questions like: How does the budget process work? Is there a timeline for appropriations bills? What’s the difference between discretionary and mandatory spending? See our 2014 federal budget primer to get a sense of the topics we’ll cover.

This training is complimentary for AALL and chapter members. Advanced registration is required.

Congressional Republicans Shift Attention to Net Neutrality Rules

January 21, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Congress will hold back-to-back hearings on net neutrality today in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology and Communications and the Senate Commerce Committee, giving lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in weeks before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to unveil its new rules and kicking off what will likely be a contentious partisan debate.

Aiming to head off the impending FCC vote, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce Committees respectively, circulated draft legislation last week to restrict the agency’s authority on net neutrality. The proposed bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling content, or from prioritizing web traffic from those sites that pay for faster access to the consumer, and would apply to both wired and wireless providers. However, the bill would also prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory move designed to give the agency more solid legal footing on which to issue strong net neutrality rules as President Obama (and AALL) have urged. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted that he will propose Title II reclassification to the commission for it Feb. 26 vote on new rules.

While the proposal to limit the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality has garnered criticism from net neutrality advocates and congressional Democrats, the legislation suggests a shift for congressional Republicans, who had previously expressed doubts about the need for net neutrality rules at all. Meanwhile, President Obama renewed his call for strong net neutrality rules during his State of the Union address last night. In this remarks, the President pledged “protect a free and open Internet” but did not directly address his support for open Internet rules under Title II reclassification.

While AALL welcomes Congressional action to protect net neutrality, we are concerned the current legislative proposal fails to adequately protect the principles of the open Internet in a number of ways. Our friends at Public Knowledge have an excellent write up of the bill’s shortcomings. The proposed legislation also raises concerns for law libraries because of a copyright provision included in section 13(c)(2), which states “nothing in this section…prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.” We maintain our belief that the FCC should establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and oppose legislative efforts to prevent such an authority.

Civil Society Groups Issue Progress Report on Open Government NAP

January 14, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

A collection of civil society groups, convened by OpentheGovernment.org and including AALL, has released the second of three progress reports on the U.S. government’s 2014-2015 National Action Plan (NAP) as part of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP). As you recall, the White House set forth 23 new or expanded commitments in open government in its second NAP, released in December 2013.  This one-year progress report, which comes at the mid-point of the current NAP, finds that the U.S. government remains on track to meet the majority of its commitments. The progress report assesses commitments in three areas: commitments where there is substantial progress; commitments where there has been some progress, but concerns remain; and commitments where there has been no progress. Most commitments fall into the middle category. It appears, the report concludes, that more progress has been made on those commitments which are being implemented with the active engagement of civil society than on those where implementation lacked civil society’s regular and collaborative engagement.

Commitment areas of interest to AALL members include improving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); agency open government plans; modernizing records management; reforming government websites; and national security classification. Progress in each of these areas has been mixed. For instance, while both the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) have taken steps to collaborate with civil society on FOIA commitments like consolidated online FOIA services and the creation of a FOIA Modernization Committee, progress has stalled on improving FOIA training and developing a common regulation. With regards to open government plans, we were pleased to see that the majority of agencies met the June 1 deadline to update their plans and more than a dozen agencies that were not specifically required to develop plans continue to participate in the initiative. However, several large and/or important agencies failed to publish updated plans, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has yet to publish an updated plan since its first version was issued in 2010. On classification issues, civil society groups met with =the Classification Reform Committee, chaired by National Security Council staff, and shared their recommendations in a follow-up letter, but have yet to receive a response. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) held a public meeting on the declassification of Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) on nuclear activities, though no progress on FRDs has been otherwise achieved.

As the report concludes, we “are hopeful that the US government’s engagement with civil society will continue to increase in both frequency and depth so the US may take full advantage of the Open Government Partnership’s opportunities.”

January Washington E-Bulletin

January 7, 2015

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

Vol. 2015, Issue 01





AALL GRC Seeks Nominations for 2015 PAGI and Oakley Advocacy Awards

January 5, 2015

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 Leslie Street by February 1, 2015.


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 the Mississippi College of Law Library for its Legislative History Project (2014); 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 Sarah (Sally) G. Holterhoff, Government Information/Reference Librarian and Associate Professor of Law Librarianship, Valparaiso University Law School Library, Valparaiso, IN (2014); 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 2015 AALL Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA. 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.

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