Statement on the Renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act
July 15, 2004
We support the position of the American Library Association and other
groups from the archives, library, history, and records management communities
that have expressed reservations about the extent to which the Uniting
and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to
Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (the USA PATRIOT Act) impinges
on the privacy rights of American citizens. Like all Americans, archivists
condemn terrorism and support the right of the United States to defend
itself against future attacks. Because we live in a democracy, however,
archivists also believe that our responses to the threat of terrorism
must take into account the protection of civil liberties that are guaranteed
in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
access to records that have been created by government agencies and
private organizations. We work to balance the right of access
to records with the right to privacy of donors, researchers, and third
parties whose identities and other personal information are included
in archival records.
We believe that in the aftermath of the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the USA PATRIOT Act was passed without
a thorough evaluation
of its potential for violating legitimate privacy rights and giving
to law enforcement agencies significant authority without sufficient
We add our collective voice to the growing number of Congressional
representatives of both parties, as well as organizations from across
the political spectrum,
that have expressed similar concerns.
Two examples that illustrate our concern:
- Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act has recast the definition of
business records found in the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act
include records about researchers that are created by an archives.
The former practice of requiring “probable cause” has been
eroded, and investigators need now only certify to a FSIA judge that
protects against terrorism in order to get a court order allowing federal
agents to examine archival records.
- In addition, the extended use of national security letters issued
under Section 505 allows agents access to certain records that might
in an archives without judicial oversight or review. Archivists
are rightly concerned that the normal system of judicial checks and
protects citizens has been replaced by secret procedures that cannot
Archivists believe that democracy thrives when public
officials can be held accountable for their actions. Because of this
we are also concerned
about the secrecy surrounding many USA PATRIOT Act activities, and
we are troubled by both:
- The provisions in the Act that limit our ability to report requests
for information from federal officials and
- The considerable lessening of requirements on the government to
provide information on the use of various investigatory options under
PATRIOT Act. Under the current law, the records of possible misdeeds
committed under the auspices of the Act could remain hidden from
public view for hundreds of years.
Archivists support legitimate attempts to
improve the security of the United States, but we believe that certain
provisions of the USA PATRIOT
Act are overreaching and must be re-examined. The USA PATRIOT Act should
be amended to protect the privacy of archives users, donors, and third
parties except in those cases in which the government has demonstrated
to a court that there is a justified reason for violating that privacy.
Further, the Act should be amended to ensure, to the greatest extent
possible, that government officials are accountable for their actions
and that all records taken under the provisions of the USA PATRIOT
ACT will be open at some appropriate time in the future.
The narrow margin
of victory and the intensity of discussion preceding the July 8, 2004,
approval of the provision that permits the Federal
Bureau of Investigation to monitor circulation records and Internet
usage of those who use public libraries illustrates how important this
is and how strongly Americans on both sides of the issue feel about it.
call on the United States Congress to join in a bipartisan effort to
re-examine the USA PATRIOT Act as it considers the renewal or extension
of various provisions, to make any revisions that are necessary to enhance
the Act’s effectiveness as a tool in combating terrorism, and to
ensure that none of this comes at the expense of the civil liberties
that Americans cherish.