AALL Urges Enactment of USA FREEDOM Act

April 29, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

The USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048, S. 1123) was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress yesterday by a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of members. Though more limited in scope than legislation by the same name which ultimately failed to pass last year, the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 would end the National Security Agency’s ongoing bulk collection of domestic phone records and prevent the government from establishing new bulk collection programs under several other authorities. AALL urges Congress to move swiftly to adopt the USA FREEDOM Act, which we believe to be a significant first step forward toward making these important reforms.

Falling somewhere between the 113th Congress’s weak House-passed bill and the compromise Senate version, the current iteration of the USA FREEDOM Act includes important privacy and transparency provisions. The bill would end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) pen register authority, and National Security Letter (NSL) statutes. Under the legislation, all significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public. The bill would also create a panel of amicus curie to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.

With the June 1 expiration of PATRIOT Act provisions approaching, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup the USA FREEDOM Act tomorrow. AALL urges the Committee to adopt amendments to restore the oversight, transparency, and accountability requirements included in the 113th Congress’s compromise bill. In addition, we support the proposed bipartisan Poe-Lofgren Amendment to amend and close the “backdoor loophole” under Section 702 of FISA to prohibit searches of data collected for the purpose of finding the communications of a U.S. person. A similar amendment was adopted in the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Appropriations bill.

AALL opposes clean reauthorization of Section 215 without amendment. In its current form, the USA FREEDOM Act offers a path for effective and meaningful reform to restore privacy and transparency and we urge its swift enactment.

AALL Strongly Opposes Clean Reauthorization of Section 215 of USA PATRIOT Act

April 23, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

With the June 1 expiration looming, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have introduced legislation to reauthorize of key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act). The bill, S. 1035, would extend, without amendment, Section 215 of the Patriot Act through 2020. Circumventing the usual deliberation and debate that occurs in committee, the Majority Leader has invoked Rule XIV, a Senate procedural rule to bypass the usual committee process and send the bill straight to the Senate floor.

AALL staunchly opposes this effort to cleanly reauthorize Section 215, the “library records” provision, which has been used to justify the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of Americans’ phone records. Since its hasty passage in 2001, the Patriot Act has upended Americans’ expectation of privacy and fomented a culture of government secrecy. Section 215 expanded the government’s authority to collect information about innocent Americans by broadening the scope of production from “records” to “any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)”. Section 215 orders come with a “gag order” that restrains the recipient of a Section 215 order from disclosing that records were sought or obtained to anyone other than the attorneys involved in the case. As the existence of the NSA’s surveillance activities been brought to light, the majority of Americans have expressed grave concerns over the erosion of their constitutional protection of privacy.

Senators McConnell and Burr’s proposal to cleanly reauthorize Section 215 without amendment or opportunity for committee debate ignores the overwhelming consensus that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 must end. AALL renews our call on members of Congress to oppose any surveillance legislation that does not contain major reforms to our nation’s surveillance laws. We urge Congress to make substantial and significant reforms to the Patriot Act to protect Americans’ constitutional freedoms and personal information from government surveillance.

Cause for Concern as Cybersecurity Legislation Moves Forward

April 22, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Cybersecurity is an increasingly important issue for U.S. industry, government, and the tech sector, but this week, Congress is poised to act on several proposals that could be detrimental to the privacy of library users.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will vote on two cybersecurity proposals, the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act (H.R. 1731) and the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (PCNA) (H.R. 1560). Both bills intend to promote information sharing about cybersecurity threats among private entities and between them and the federal government: H.R. 1731 would use the Department of Homeland Security as an intermediary for sharing electronic information, giving companies protection from civil suits brought by consumers who think the information sharing violates privacy laws; H.R. 1560 would provide liability protections for companies that share that information with other companies and the government. However, in doing so, the bills increase intelligence agencies’ access to sensitive personal information without adequate legal protections and exempt from disclosure “without discretion” some information provided to the government under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a letter sent to members of the House on Tuesday, AALL joined a coalition of open government and civil liberties groups to oppose the PCNA, which would “undermine government transparency and potentially result in the bulk collection and mining of sensitive personal information by intelligence agencies that would have little to do with cybersecurity.”

H.R. 1560 and H.R. 1731 are expected to pass the House and have gained the support of the White House, though it is yet unclear if members of the Senate will support both measures. In total, five bills on information sharing in cybersecurity have been introduced in the 114th Congress. The White House has also submitted a legislative proposal and issued an executive order on the topic. While is it clear that action is necessary to enable effective information sharing to protect against cyber threats, AALL believes that Congress must take steps to protect personal privacy before enacting any cybersecurity legislation.

Recent Developments on the Public Access Front

April 9, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Public access to government information is one of AALL’s core policy priorities and we’re happy to report on some recent progress in this area.

In late March, a bipartisan coalition of Representatives and Senators re-introduced the Fair Access to Science & Technology Research (FASTR) Act (H.R. 1477/S.779). FASTR would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million and above to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research. A coalition of 17 national and regional library, publishing, funding, research and advocacy organizations, including AALL, sent a letter to the House and Senate sponsors yesterday, thanking them for their introduction of this important legislation.

FASTR was first introduced in 2013 and shortly after, the White House released a directive  requiring the results of research funded by major federal government entities to be made freely available to the public. H.R. 1477 and S.779 would strengthen and codify that directive by shortening the embargo period from research publication to public access from 12 months to six.

The 2013 directive also required that agencies and departments release plans for ensuring public access to articles and data resulting from taxpayer-funded research. Most recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their plans. SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, provides useful analysis of agency plans on their blog.

April Washington E-Bulletin

April 1, 2015

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

Vol. 2015, Issue 04





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