Information Update - Fall 2008

Updates on the Patriot Act and Other Legislation

The American Library Association and other organizations in the library and publishing communities continue to express concern regarding the USA Patriot Act and other legislation perceived as invading the privacy of library patrons. In April 2008, ALA, along with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, voiced approval of the National Security Letters Reform Act (S. 2088 and H.R. 3189). These two bills would restrict FBI searches to the records of those suspected of or directly connected to terrorism and espionage. Also limited would be the time that booksellers and librarians are barred by a gag provision from revealing the receipt of a National Security Letter used to obtain Internet records, or a Section 215 order, used to demand all other records.
 
Also of concern has been the Protect America Act (Public Law 110-55) passed in August 2007. This controversial legislation amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), removing the warrant requirements for government surveillance of foreign intelligence targets outside the United States. ALA states that when the government seeks to obtain information from libraries in the United States, it should do so only with a warrant authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whether the person using the library service is an American citizen or not, or located within the United States or abroad. "Libraries are gateways to freedom abroad," and when they are expanding services globally and providing distance learning opportunities to Americans and foreign student communities in other nations, their mission will be diminished if it is understood that the U.S. government may, without a warrant or judicial oversight, monitor the use of library facilities by any person overseas for foreign intelligence purposes. The PAA, however, had a sunset clause attached to it, which caused it to expire in February 2008, pending further congressional action. Taking its place has been the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which to date has passed the Senate and the House in different forms.
 
For further information and updates on these issues, a good place to look is the American Library Association website, particularly the ALA, Washington Office, District Dispatch (http://www.wo.ala.org/districtdispatch/).
 
Kevin Norris
Pride, Passion, Promise: Experience Our Jesuit Tradition