The USA PATRIOT Act is a package of surveillance and intelligence law changes that were made in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Two of the most controversial provisions have directly affected libraries, as they substantially broaden the government’s ability to demand information about our users. With National Security Letters and FISA court orders, government agents can obtain almost any information with only the thinnest justification, and very little oversight. ARL participates actively in efforts to increase oversight and privacy protections in the law.
The USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress following 9/11, greatly expanded law enforcement’s counterterrorism authorities. On May 26, 2011, Congress voted to renew three expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act for four more years, until June 1, 2015. Due to expire were the "lone wolf" provision, the roaming wiretaps provision, and the "library provision" (Section 215). Majority leaders in both chambers described the move as a compromise despite the lengthy extension and total absence of reform and oversight provisions. The bill passed by large bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, though the number of votes against renewal was higher (and also more bipartisan) than in previous years. President Obama, who advocated reform as a Senator, signed the extension into law.
In February of 2011, ARL and ALA sent a letter to Sen. Leahy (PDF) (Chair, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, D-VT) supporting reform of the act. In the letter, the library associations supported additional judicial oversight for use of surveillance tools when they implicate reader privacy; codification of the reforms adopted voluntarily by Attorney General Eric Holder, including protections for library records; a new sunset for National Security Letters (NSLs); repeal of the presumption of relevance for certain Section 215 orders; and restoration of the constitutional rights of gag-order recipients.
- American Library Association on the USA PATRIOT Act
- Congressional Research Service, "Libraries and the USA PATRIOT Act," updated July 6, 2005 (PDF)
- Electronic Frontier Foundation Discussion on USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization (Sept. 17, '09)
- Center for Democracy & Technology
- American Civil Liberties Union
- House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Report on Selected Aspects of USA PATRIOT Act Implementation (5/21/03), and Press Release
- Mary Minow, "Library Records Post-PATRIOT Act"
- Mary Minow, "The USA PATRIOT Act and Patron Privacy on Library Internet Terminals"
- Cornell University, Office of Information Technologies, IT Policy Advisor: "The Patriot Act of 2001: Potential Implications for Information Technologies in Colleges and Universities"
Previous Legislative Efforts to Update the USA PATRIOT Act
- “Reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act: Ensuring Liberty and Security”: A Summary of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, September 2009.
- Library Associations Statement On The USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009
- USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009
- H.R. 3199 ENR, USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)
- S. 1266 RS: To permanently authorize certain provisions of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2005 (Report in Senate)
- S. 737 and H.R. 1526, Security and Freedom Enhancement Act (SAFE) of 2005
- H.R. 1157, Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2005
- S. 317, Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act (2005)
- H.R. 3179, Antiterrorism Intelligence Tools Improvement Act of 2003
- H.R. 3037, Antiterrorism Tools Enhancement Act of 2003
- H.R. 3040, Pretrial Detention and Lifetime Supervision of Terrorists Act of 2003
- S. 1695, PATRIOT Oversight Restoration Act of 2003
- S. 1552, Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act (2003)
- S. 1158, Library and Bookseller Protection Act (2003)