February 16, 2018

Patriot Act Extended for Four Years With No Change to ‘Library Records Provision’

After months of debate and delay, Congress passed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act on Thursday, and President Obama signed the bill into law just minutes before a midnight deadline.

The extension leaves unchanged Section 215 (also known as the “library records provision”), which has always been a serious concern to the library community. Under the provision the FBI can ask a federal court for access to “any tangible thing”—including library records—relevant to a terrorist threat.

“ALA is more than disappointed in the final outcome,” said Lynne Bradley, the director of the office of government relations for the American Library Association. “The library community has sought reasonable Patriot Act reforms since it was first proposed in the fall of 2001, and this would have been another opportunity to fix some of the grievances we have. But Congress decided to punt instead,” she said.

Bradley drew some consolation from the growing number of senators and representatives voting against the measure. The Senate passed the bill 72-23, and the House voted in favor of it 250-153.

The ALA and the Association of Research Libraries had supported a bill (S. 193) introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that would have increased reader privacy protections. The organizations also supported Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment to “return Section 215 of the Act to its pre-2001 form, limiting surveillance under that provision to suspected terrorists and spies and restoring privacy to the records of innocent library users,” according to an entry posted earlier in the week on the ALA Washington office’s blog.

The associations had also been hoping for an extension until only 2013, instead of June 1, 2015.

Leahy apparently is not giving up the fight, Bradley said, already introducing the USA Patriot Act Improvements Act of 2011 (S.1125).

“The vote is both frustrating and encouraging,” Bradley said. “I think message is getting out there, and senators Leahy and Paul, whatever other issues we might have with proposals they might make, really recognize the need to make these reforms to address privacy and civil liberty concerns. It is discouraging but at the same time nothing is ever over,” she said.

Under the extension, federal officials will also still be able to wiretap unidentified suspects as they move about and use different devices, and the FBI can monitor non-American “lone wolf” suspects, even if they have no known terrorist ties (the latter provision was part of a 2004 intelligence act).

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.