The Freedom to Read Foundation and American Library Association have joined with dozens of technology firms and other civil liberty organizations in calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to increase transparency surrounding government surveillance efforts.
In a letter released this morning, FTRF, ALA, and the other groups led by the Center for Democracy and Technology demanded that technology companies be permitted to release information about the number of requests for information under the USA Patriot Act and other authorities, as well as that the government itself release its own data on surveillance.
From the letter:
“As an initial step, we request that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the relevant executive branch agencies, agree that Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes. We further urge Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.”
Today’s letter includes an appeal to the country’s innovative tradition:
“Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights.”
Campaign for Reader Privacy calls for new privacy legislation
ALA today also joined with its partners in the Campaign for Reader Privacy to call on Congress to pass legislation to restore privacy protections for bookstore and library records that were stripped by the Patriot Act as a first step toward reining in what the group calls “runaway surveillance programs.”
The statement points out that,
“Two years ago, Democratic and Republican members of Congress introduced a bill requiring the government to show that those whose reading records it wishes to gather are actually suspected of criminal activity—something that is required by the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the First Amendment, which guards our right to access information of our own choosing. But Congress ignored that bill and reauthorized what we now know are flawed, dangerous powers.”
It continues, “What law-abiding Americans are reading is nobody’s business.”
History of support for privacy protections
The Freedom to Read Foundation and ALA have long been concerned about and prioritized education and advocacy around reader privacy issues as fundamental to our right to access information.
FTRF has engaged in several litigation efforts (including John Doe and ACLU v. Holder and Library Connection v. Gonzales) to mitigate the excesses of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 surveillance initiatives. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom sponsors Choose Privacy Week and cosponsors the new ala.org/liberty site, which includes the Privacy Toolkit created several years ago to help libraries provide education about privacy and secure the privacy of their users. ALA is also part of the “Stop Watching Us” coalition, a broad, bipartisan organizing effort to demand accountability around surveillance.
At the ALA Annual Conference last month, the ALA Council passed a resolution in support of privacy, protection for whistleblowers, and increased government transparency.