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Libraries and the USA PATRIOT Act

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Congressional rept.

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The USA PATRIOT Act, P.L. 107-56, enacted to help track down and punish terrorists and to prevent further terrorism, contains no provisions specifically directed at libraries or their patrons. It has several provisions, however, that might apply in a library context. The most frequently mentioned of these is Section 215 that amends the business record sections of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act FISA. Before the USA PATRIOT Act, federal authorities, engaged in gathering foreign intelligence information or conducting an investigation of international terrorism, could seek a FISA court order for access to hotel, airline, storage locker, or car rental business records. The businesses to whom the orders were addressed were bound to silence. Section 215 amended the procedure so that in a foreign intelligence or international terrorism investigation federal authorities may obtain a FISA order for access to any tangible item no matter who holds it, including by implication library loan records and the records of library computer use. Although past practices have apparently made the library community apprehensive, the extent to which the authority of Section 215 has been used, if at all, is unclear. Media accounts of federal investigations involving library patrons ordinarily do not distinguish between simple inquiries, grand jury subpoenas, criminal search warrants, FISA physical search orders, and FISA tangible item orders. Moreover, the Justice Department has indicated that as of March 30, 2005 the authority under Section 215 had been exercised on 35 occasions, but had not been used in any instance to secure library, bookstore, gun sale, or medical records. The House-passed Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill for FY2006 contains an amendment that bars the expenditure of funds to use Section 215 to acquire library or book store records the amendment does not appear in the Senate committee-reported version of the bill.

Subject Categories:

  • Information Science
  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Intelligence
  • Unconventional Warfare

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