Book Groups Defend Reader Privacy from National Security Letters

Book Groups Defend Reader Privacy from National Security Letters

Six organizations have banded together to fire two new salvos in an ongoing battle against the use of National Security Letters to obtain information about individuals’ reading habits under the USA Patriot Act.

On March 17 the American Library Association joined with five other groups to file an amicus curiae brief in a case brought by an internet service provider challenging the FBI’s use of the letters to demand private information from libraries, telephone companies, internet service providers, and other data-gathering bodies. Last September a District Court judge ruled that the NSL provision of the Patriot Act violated the First Amendment, and the government appealed the case, Doe v. Mukasey, to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The brief, submitted by ALA, the American Booksellers Association Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Association of University Professors, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and PEN American Center, states that the NSL statute, even as revised by Congress, “chills protected speech,” pointing out that “even though the new Section 2709 purports to create an exemption for libraries, it does nothing of the sort for the vast majority of libraries.”

In an advertisement in the April 1 issue of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, ALA, AAP, ABA, and the PEN American Center urged Congress to restore the reader-privacy safeguards that were eliminated by the Patriot Act. The open letter, which cited two recent reports by the Justice Department’s Inspector General showing that the FBI has violated the law thousands of times since Congress expanded the bureau’s authority to issue NSLs, called for passage of the National Security Letters Reform Act (S. 2088 and H.R. 3189).

Posted on April 4, 2008. Discuss.