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.