Civil Liberties

America's Librarians 'inimically against' PATRIOT Act Extension

Sen. McConnell's pro-surveillance stylings stir up opposition


U.S. Government

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's surprise scheme to head off reform of America's surveillance state with a quickie renewal of the offending PATRIOT Act in its totality draws fast criticism. It's hard to believe the long-time snooper-booster thought he could slip the legislation through without raising a fuss, and a fuss he has raised, with denunciations coming in from organizations including the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mozilla Foundation.

S.1035 is, bluntly, billed as "a bill to extend authority relating to roving surveillance, access to business records, and individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and for other purposes." Co-sponsors are limited, for the moment, to fellow mass-surveillance fan Sen Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Hopefully, that indicates the bill's chances in a Congress where Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed concern over the intrusive reach of the National Security Agency and the rest of the federal alphabet soup into Americans' communications (although both donkeys and elephants have come out as fans of the same, too).

Responding to the bill proposed by McConnell and Burr, American Library Association President Courtney Young announced that the organization is "inimically opposed" to its passage. Young commented, "Nothing is more basic to democracy and librarianship than intellectual freedom. And, nothing is more hostile to that freedom than the knowledge that the government can compel a library—without a traditional judicial search warrant—to report on the reading and Internet records of library patrons, students, researchers and entrepreneurs. That is what Section 215 did in 2001 and what it still does today."

The American Civil Liberties Union's Anthony Romero noted, "The Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers. We need to have a serious debate about the effectiveness of the Patriot Act and its implications for civil liberties. Until that happens, Congress should let Section 215 of the Patriot Act expire with the whimper it deserves."

"Mozilla is deeply troubled by Senators Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr's new legislation to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act without any reforms," says Chris Riley, the Mozilla Foundation's Head of Public Policy. "Their legislation would allow the program that collects the call records of every law-abiding American to continue unchecked through 2020. Our call records are more than just numbers and metadata, they are intimate portraits into our lives, and should be kept private. Mozilla and thousands of internet users urge Congress to pass real surveillance reform."

After its defeat last year over watered-down provisions, a revised version of the modestly surveillance-limiting USA FREEDOM Act is in the works, and parts of the PATRIOT Act expire on June 1 all by themselves.