February 17, 2018

ALA Joins Lawsuit To Block FCC’s Wiretapping Rule

By LJ Staff

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to extend new regulations to universities and libraries that would force them to redesign their networks by July 2007 to enable law enforcement agencies to have remote access to their systems. In turn, the American Council on Education, representing universities, and the American Library Association (ALA), representing libraries, have gone to court. ALA joined a coalition of public interest and business groups, led by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) asking a federal appeals court to overturn the FCC ruling. According to a CDT statement, "The civil liberties, privacy and high-tech industry advocates opposing the FCC ruling warn that it extends the wiretapping rules to technologies it was never intended to cover, imposes a burdensome government mandate on innovators and threatens the privacy rights of individuals who use the Internet and other new communications technologies."

Rick Weingarten, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), said that critics believe that the FCC lacks the authority to implement the rule. It would also, he said, constitute "an unfunded mandate, basically a blank check, and it could cost a lot. The potential benefits are very little, so the public interest doesn’t support it." He said that the concern in the library community is growing, "because we think it could potentially impact library consortial networks. There are a lot of networks, even broader consortia that include libraries, and they’d have to reengineer their entire network." Added Carrie Lowe of OITP, "They’ve asked for 24/7/365 point of contact, to enable these offsite wiretaps at any time" – a potentially burdensome expense. Weingarten observed, "This is a major change in policy that, if executed, should be done legislatively, with hearings and all issues vetted in the political process, rather than by some regulatory agency."