August 24, 2015
By Elizabeth Holland
Today, AALL joined a coalition of 40 organizations and 90+ individuals to call on Congress to expand public access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. In a letter sent to the leadership of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, House Committee on House Administration, and Joint Committee on the Library, which share jurisdiction over CRS, we urge the implementation of systematic public access to non-confidential CRS reports. Many individual law librarians also signed the letter.
American taxpayers spend more than $100 million annually to fund the CRS, yet current distribution of these reports is uneven and often expensive. CRS reports are only distributed directly to members of Congress, who can then decide whether or not to distribute them publicly. Those Capitol Hill insiders who know to ask their lawmakers for specific reports by name or who can afford to pay for them in a secondary market are able to access these useful reports, while many students, researchers, and other members of the public are not.
CRS reports play an important role in the legislative process by serving as an authoritative and unbiased source of information for legislators and staff. Over the past 10 years, CRS reports have been cited in 190 federal court opinions, more than 100 articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and are often published in the record of legislative proceedings. The public deserves a consistent and official way to access the non-classified, non-biased information CRS provides. The Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the Law Library of Congress, and 85 percent of G-20 countries with similar parliamentary research offices already make their reports available to the public. We urge Congress to see to it that CRS follow suit.
May 18, 2015
By Elizabeth Holland
The House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on H.R. 2250, the Fiscal Year 2016 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act. If passed in its current form, H.R. 2250 will eliminate funding for the Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) Revolving Fund. AALL opposes these cuts because without this funding, GPO may be unable to develop new digital content collections, increase accessibility of content, or improve discoverability of government information through its Federal Digital System (FDsys.gov). As the only source of no-fee public access to official digital government information from all three branches of the federal government, FDsys plays an essential role in supporting a healthy democracy.
We urge AALL members to contact your Representative today to ask him/her to oppose the cuts to GPO’s Revolving Fund in H.R. 2250. Please express your support for full funding of GPO and, in particular, the need to fund the continued development of FDsys through the Revolving Fund. We’ve set up a new action alert in AALL’s Legislative Action Center so that you can easily contact your Representative in advance of the vote, even if you’ve already taken action on this issue this year.
Be sure to customize your email to your Representative for maximum impact. For example, if you are a regular FDsys user, tell your member of Congress why it is a valuable resource to you and your patrons. Personalized constituent contacts are critical to our success in ensuring GPO can continue to fulfill it vital mission. Your personal stories will help our efforts to restore full funding for GPO when the appropriations bill moves to the Senate.
Thank you for taking action!
May 14, 2015
By Elizabeth Holland
The House of Representatives voted 338 to 88 to pass the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) on Wednesday, taking an important step forward to restrict overbroad government surveillance in advance of the June 1 expiration of USA PATRIOT Act provisions. AALL urges the Senate to follow suit and act quickly to approve the USA FREEDOM Act without any weakening amendments.
The USA FREEDOM Act would reform Section 215, the “library records” provision, of the USA PATRIOT Act to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the program is illegal, making it much more difficult for the bulk collection program to continue. The White House also issued a Statement of Administration Policy in support of the USA FREEDOM Act.
Though AALL was disappointed that amendments to strengthen the bill were blocked in the committee process, we believe the USA FREEDOM Act is a critical to ending the bulk collection program and protecting the privacy of all Americans. We are pleased that H.R. 2048 contains important privacy and transparency provisions, including a requirement that significant constructions or interpretations of law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court be made public.
AALL opposes an effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, S. 1035, to renew the expiring USA PATRIOT Act authorities for another five years without reform. While that measure would likely fail, Senators opposed to the USA FREEDOM Act have suggested bringing a short-term reauthorization to the floor in the face of a potential filibuster. With the clock ticking toward expiration, the Senate should feel pressure to act.
While the USA FREEDOM Act is far from perfect, this legislation offers a path for effective and meaningful reform to restore privacy. With the courts, White House, House of Representatives, and American people clearly in favor of reform, AALL urges the Senate to approve this sensible compromise legislation.
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.
April 1, 2015
The April issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is available now on AALLNET.
IN THIS ISSUE
Vol. 2015, Issue 04
A LOOK AHEAD
AALL IN THE STATES
ROUNDUP AND REVIEW
March 25, 2015
By Elizabeth Holland
In a letter signed by more than 45 privacy advocates, tech companies, and professional and trade associations, AALL today urged significant reform of our nation’s surveillance laws. Addressed to President Obama, members of the intelligence community, and Congressional leadership, the coalition letter calls on lawmakers to act before key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act – including Section 215,which has been used as the basis for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of records – sunset on June 1, 2015.
The coalition urges that any legislative or Administration effort to reform the USA PATRIOT Act must include: 1) Ending bulk collection under Section 215 provision, as well as under Section 214, the provision governing pen registers and trap and trace devices; and 2) Transparency and accountability measures for government and private sector reporting, as well as a proposal for the declassification of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court decisions. We also urge members of Congress to oppose any surveillance legislation that does not contain major reforms and to avoid adding any new mandates to the law that would be unduly controversial and could derail reform efforts.
In November 2014, Senate blocked consideration of the USA FREEDOM Act, rejecting the last opportunity to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance program before the year’s end. With the June 1 deadline approaching, AALL urges Congress to move quickly to enact surveillance reform.