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ARL Joins Coalition in Urging Congress to Evaluate, Reform NSA Surveillance

image © François Proulx

Yesterday ARL, together with 59 other privacy and civil liberties groups, sent a letter (PDF) to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, calling on Congress to evaluate the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs and risks to civil liberties. Based upon such a review, the coalition urges Congress to enact critical reforms to ensure that government surveillance programs include robust safeguards for constitutional rights. Such reforms should include tightening the standards for collection and use of information, including communications metadata; increasing meaningful judicial authorization and review of such programs; and limiting the secrecy of such programs. The coalition sent the letter in advance of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing today on the NSA surveillance programs.

The letter states:

While additional information is necessary to fully understand the secret legal authorities being used by the government, recent disclosures regarding NSA programs under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act raise serious legal and constitutional concerns about the scope of government surveillance. For example, it is difficult to understand how collection of the phone records of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any connection to terrorism could be authorized under the plain terms of Section 215. More significantly, the vast scope of the reported surveillance under Section 215 and Section 702 threatens Americans’ First Amendment rights of free association and Fourth Amendment rights. The lack of full information about the scope of such secret national security surveillance increases our concern.

We urge Congress to evaluate these surveillance authorities and the risks to civil liberties. In doing so, we urge you to review how other authorities, for example national security letter authorities, overlap, expand or complement the specific authorities under sections 215 and 702. Based upon this review, Congress should enact critical reforms to ensure that government surveillance programs include robust safeguards for constitutional rights.

The coalition recommends four specific reforms, at a minimum, that should be enacted to protect Americans’ civil liberties.

Read the complete letter (PDF).

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

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