By Elizabeth Holland
AALL applauds the Senate passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) today, without amendment, by a vote of 67-32. The USA FREEDOM Act will 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 will 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. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, ushering in the most significant reduction in the government’s surveillance authorities since the 2001 passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.
AALL was pleased to see the Senate decisively reject all three weakening amendments offered to the USA FREEDOM Act by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). These amendments would have unnecessarily extended the government’s authority to collect Americans’ communications records in bulk by an extra six months, required service providers receiving an order for production of call detail records to notify the Attorney General if they intend to retain call detail records for less than 18 months, and weakened the amicus provision. A fourth amendment to strike disclosure of FISA Court opinions to the public was tabled by the Majority Leader.
AALL and our members have long advocated for reforms to the USA PATRIOT Act that protect the privacy of library users and all Americans, including changes to Section 215 and the NSL authorities. As our Government Relations Policy states, “AALL supports a comprehensive national and state framework for privacy protection to safeguard the rights of all Americans. We oppose any current or future legislation, regulation, or guideline that erodes the privacy and confidentiality of library users or that has the effect of suppressing the free and open exchange of ideas and information.” The enactment of the USA FREEDOM Act is an important and significant step forward in limiting overbroad government surveillance. Thank you to all members of AALL who have helped to usher in this historic reform!