The Campaign for Reader Privacy, which has been fighting to restore privacy safeguards for library and bookstore records that were stripped away by the Patriot Act, warmly welcomed an announcement by the Inspector General (IG) of the Justice Department that he plans to begin a new investigation into how the government is using Patriot Act domestic surveillance powers. Prior IG reports have documented widespread abuse by the FBI of National Security Letters (NSLs) and questionable use of Section 215 orders. In the new investigation, the IG will look into the use of NSLs and Section 215 orders, the two Patriot Act provisions of greatest concern to reader privacy advocates.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy had been pressing for significant changes in Section 215, one of the Patriot Act provisions due to expire on December 31, 2009, and had succeeded in securing the approval of a bill by the House Judiciary Committee that would prohibit the use of Section 215 to search the records of a library patron or bookstore customer unless there are “specific and articulable facts” to show that the person is “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or someone who is in contact or known to the suspected agent. A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee provided enhanced protections for library patrons. Unfortunately, time ran out before Congress was able to complete the reauthorization process and a temporary one-year extension (until February 2011) of the existing Patriot Act was approved.
Inspector General Glenn Fine announced his investigation this week in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In March, Leahy asked Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a review of the way the Department is using Section 215 and the NSL provisions even though the legislation requiring it did not become law.
Source: Campaign for Reader Privacy