The U.S. House of Representatives appears to have done something positive this year. (Librarians, celebrate!) Now to see what the Senate (which is much less devoted to privacy and liberty these days) does with the bill. The full story from the NY Times is behind the link.
I’m going over my notes from the NYLink class from the day before yesterday–I’ll have that up later today. For the moment, I’ll just note that Connexion 1.3 (which is the current version as of March 2005) works very much like CatME, but rather slower: Connexion scans an Oracle database instead of OCLC’s. Still, if you’re used to CatME, you should have few problems making the transition in the next few weeks.
House Blocks a Provision for Patriot Act Inquiries
June 16, 2005
By Carl Hulse
WASHINGTON, June 15 – The House voted Wednesday to block a provision of the USA Patriot Act that makes it easier for federal investigators to review the records of libraries and bookstores on national security grounds.
Critics of the new federal power approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks said it was an excessive grant of authority to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department that threatened privacy and fundamental constitutional rights.
Those who challenged the provision, a coalition of liberals and conservatives, said the 238-to-187 House vote should send a message to the administration that lawmakers are leery of maintaining all elements of the law even as President Bush seeks to renew the act.
"Congress has begun to hear that civil liberties and privacy issues are important to Americans," said Representative Bernard Sanders, the independent from Vermont who led the effort to block the provision through a $57.5 billion spending measure. It covers the Justice, State and Commerce departments as well as federal science programs.
The White House has threatened to veto the measure if it impedes the Patriot Act, and Mr. Bush as recently as Tuesday personally urged lawmakers to renew the law.
"The Patriot Act is an important piece of legislation," Mr. Bush told Republican lawmakers at a fund-raising dinner. "It gives those folks who are on the front line of fighting terror the same tools – many of the same tools that are used to track down drug kingpins or tax cheats."
Some Congressional officials said the House action could be overturned in eventual negotiations with the Senate. In the vote, 38 Republicans joined 199 Democrats and Mr. Sanders in blocking the provision; 186 Republicans and one Democrat, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, were opposed.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Representative Frank R. Wolf, Republican of Virginia, the Justice Department defended the library provision as a valuable terror-fighting tool. "Bookstores and libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies, who have, in fact, used public libraries to do research and communicate with their co-conspirators," wrote William E. Moschella, assistant attorney general.
During the floor debate, supporters of the Patriot Act said that the potential privacy threats of the provision were being exaggerated and that federal investigators needed all available tools when chasing terrorists.
"I believe it is appropriate that our law enforcement agents, after the proper showing in federal court, can get these records and prevent the next attack, not react after we lose hundreds of thousands of lives," said Representative Tom Feeney, Republican of Florida.
Opponents of the provision fell just short last year in a similar attempt when the House leadership pressured Republicans to back the president. But a handful of states and scores of communities around the nation have raised formal concerns about the Patriot Act and the provision was strongly opposed by library groups even though the Justice Department said it had never been used.
Mr. Sanders said he was also able to attract more support this year through a provision that would allow the F.B.I. to access records covering Internet usage at the library.
He said that he was already working with members of the Senate on the issue and that any effort to overturn the House action would be challenged. "We didn’t win this by three votes," he said. "I think that today’s vote that will tell the Senate and the House that, wait a second, the American people want some thoughtful reexamination of the USA Patriot Act."
Following the vote, a Justice Department spokesman, Kevin Madden, described the provision as an "important tool for investigating and intercepting terrorism while at the same time establishing robust safeguards to protect law-abiding Americans."
The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the House action, saying "it bodes well that the first vote Congress has taken on the Patriot Act this year has been in favor of liberty and freedom."
The House is expected to approve the entire measure on Thursday. While debating the same bill, lawmakers rejected, 254 to 161, an amendment that would have prevented the Justice Department from enforcing federal marijuana laws in a handful of states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
"Let’s focus in on things that are real threats to the American people, not on issues that have been decided by the people of the various states," said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. "This is something that should be made available in a compassionate way to help a few people."
But Mr. Wolf, the subcommittee chairman, said, "I at one time supported this and changed my vote in the Congress, because I’ve seen the devastation that drugs can do to young people."