November 16, 2017

Legislation Aims at NSL Abuses

By Norman Oder

ALA, privacy advocates hail proposed tightening of Patriot Act

A bipartisan group of Senators has introduced legislation aimed at tightening the FBI’s use of National Security Letters (NSLs), administrative subpoenas issued with no judicial oversight, deployed under the USA PATRIOT Act. The Campaign for Reader Privacy, which includes groups of librarians, booksellers, publishers, and authors, praised the bill.

The National Security Letter Reform Act of 2007, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and others, responds to a report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General that documented misuse of NSLs and to two federal court decisions that struck down the NSL provisions of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional. A somewhat similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July.

Under the NSL Reform Act, the government would have to determine that each record sought via an NSL relates to someone with a connection to terrorism or espionage, thus curbing what critics see as fishing expeditions. Also, it would place a time limit on the gag order imposed on recipients of NSLs, though it could be extended by a court, and restrict the ability of the FBI to search business records, including library circulation data, by requiring an individualized standard of suspicion rather than by allowing the records to be described to a court as ‘relevant’ to an investigation.