February 17, 2018

FBI Has Tried to Use Section 215 of the Patriot Act, But at Libraries?

By LJ Staff

So, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been trying to use Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act after all. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in October 2003 on behalf of the Freedom to Read Foundation (sibling organization of the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, records indicate that the FBI sought to use Section 215 of the act in October 2003–less than one month after Attorney General John Ashcroft told American Library Association (ALA) President Carla Hayden that this power had never been used. However the records do not indicate how many times the FBI has invoked Section 215 since October 2003, nor whether the FBI was seeking business records from a library or another entity.

“These documents demonstrate there is no validity in the Department of Justice’s ongoing suggestions that librarians and other critics of Patriot Act provisions are ‘hysterical,'” Hayden said. “The guidance memo confirms the ALA’s understanding of the scope and nature of the business records authority granted by Section 215 and that the judicial review is of a lower legal standard than was previously provided in U.S. law.” The records are available online.