USA FREEDOM Act Fails to Advance in Senate

Cross-posted from ARL News

ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to advance the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), a bill that would have provided meaningful reform to current National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance practices and protect civil liberties. A November 18, 2014, evening vote on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) cloture motion to proceed with the USA FREEDOM Act fell two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes.

The USA FREEDOM Act, reintroduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in July, would have ended the current practice of bulk collection of phone records and prevented bulk collection of other records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. Additionally, S. 2685 included several reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), such as requiring unclassified summaries of FISC opinions with information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties and creating a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Leahy’s bill also included enhanced transparency provisions.

The USA FREEDOM Act had broad support of advocacy groups and technology companies. The bill also gained support from key individuals, including President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will expire in June 2015 unless the US Congress votes to reauthorize the provision, and a continued fight over this provision is expected. Last year, revelations about the NSA program, including the breadth and scope of bulk collection of data, raised serious concerns regarding curtailment of civil liberties and the compatibility of these programs with the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Even prior to these disclosures, the library community expressed reservations regarding overly broad national security powers and has repeatedly urged for necessary reforms.

While ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to address the serious civil liberties concerns raised by NSA surveillance practices and bring the USA FREEDOM Act to a vote, the Association remains hopeful that meaningful reform can still be achieved as the fight over bulk collection of records continues. ARL is grateful to Chairman Leahy for his leadership on NSA reform and looks forward to continuing to work with his and other offices on these important civil liberty issues in the future.

LCA Statement for House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Education and Visually Impaired

Today, November 19, 2014, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will continue its copyright review with a hearing on “Copyright Issues in Education and for the Visually Impaired.” Witnesses for the hearing include Jack Bernard, Associate General Counsel, University of Michigan; Allan Adler, General Counsel, Association of American Publishers; Scott LaBarre, State President, Colorado, National Federation for the Blind; and Roy Kaufman, Managing Director, New Ventures, Copyright Clearance Center.

In advance of the hearing, LCA submitted a statement for the record. The statement discusses the exceptions to the Copyright Act enabling libraries to support educational institutions and concludes that revision of these provisions is unnecessary. It also discusses the Chafee Amendment and fair use doctrine, provisions allowing libraries to provide accessible format copies to the print disabled.

Senate to Vote on Future of USA FREEDOM Act

Today, November 18, 2014, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a cloture motion by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the USA FREEDOM Act (S.2685), determining whether the Senate will move forward with a vote on this important piece of legislation. The motion needs sixty votes to proceed to the floor. Senator Leahy (D-VT) re-introduced a new version of the USA FREEDOM Act on July 29, 2014, which includes significant improvements over the version passed in the House (H.R. 3361) in May. Leahy’s bill, which has bipartisan support, provides for meaningful reform and protects civil liberties.

Leahy’s bill would end the current practice of bulk collection of phone records and prevent bulk collection of other records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. It would also make several reforms to the FISA Court, such as requiring that unclassified summaries of FISC opinions include information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties and create a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Leahy’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act also includes enhanced transparency provisions.

ARL, along with a broad coalition of advocacy groups, supports this bill and has called for swift passage of this new version, without any dilution or amendment. The White House has now endorsed the bill, as well.

Senator Leahy’s USA FREEDOM Act represents a significant step forward in reforming NSA surveillance practices. ARL urges the Senate to move forward on the USA FREEDOM Act and pass the bill in its current form.

Senate Majority Leader Reid Moves USA FREEDOM Act One Step Closer

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a motion for cloture on the USA FREEDOM Act, bringing the legislation one step closer to passage. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a revised version of the bill in July 2014 which includes significant improvements over the version passed by the House of Representatives (H.R. 3361) on May 22, 2014.

Leahy’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act includes more effective language to end bulk collection and protect civil liberties as well as strengthened oversight and transparency provisions. The bill garnered bipartisan sponsorship and has a long list of supporters, including ARL.

ICYMI: President Obama Supports Net Neutrality, Urges Title II Reclassification

On November 10, 2014, President Obama issued a strong statement in support of net neutrality. In his statement, Obama recommended bright-line rules in certain areas, including rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization and enhanced rules on transparency. He also recommends that the FCC reclassify consumer broadband services as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. You can watch the video and read the statement here.

President Obama’s support for net neutrality and recommendations on bright-line rules mirror some of the principles advocated for by ARL and other higher education and library organizations in submissions to the FCC.

ARL and ALA File Comments Opposing E-Reader Waiver Extension and Disability Tax

On October 27, 2014, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the American Library Association (ALA) filed comments with the FCC opposing the petition for waiver extension by e-reader manufacturers. On January 28, 2014, the FCC granted a one-year waiver of its advanced communication services (ACS) accessibility rules for “basic e-readers” considered to be “single-purpose reading devices that consumers use for accessing text-based works (i.e., reading), not for other purposes such as ACS.” The e-reader manufacturers recently filed a petition requesting an extension of this waiver, which essentially creates a tax for disabled persons purchasing basic e-reader devices.

In the filing, ARL and ALA explain how basic e-readers are used, including for “co-primary uses” which allow the user to connect to the Internet and use the device to communicate with others via e-mail and social media services. ARL and ALA oppose the extension of the waiver, noting that denying the e-reader manufacturers’ petition “is consistent with the public interest. Finally, ARL and ALA argue that if a waiver is extended, that the FCC should narrow the scope of the waiver class and limit its duration. The full comments can be found here.

The comments focus on heavily on the public interest, noting:

As discussed above, the Kindles and other basic e-readers are capable of accessing ACS in potentially very convenient and useful ways. Access to these features on these devices, by disabled persons weighs heavily in the public interest. A denial of the waiver extension will increase public access to ACS through the Coalition’s e-readers. By requiring that the Coalition include accessible ACS functionality with the browser, the Commission will be supporting increased access for print-disabled members of the public through universally designed devices available to all consumers

Appallingly, the e-reader manufacturers defend their request for extension by arguing that persons with disabilities can purchase a more expensive device to address accessibility needs. ARL and ALA also point out that this proposal effectively creates a disability tax. Furthermore, not only would the proposal require a disabled person to pay more for a device with accessibility features, but such devices also have drawbacks such as heavier weight and less battery life:

Under the current e-reader ACS regime proposed by the Coalition and tentatively adopted by the Commission, disabled persons must pay a ‘device access tax’. By availing oneself of one of the ‘accessible options’ as suggested by the Coalition, a disabled person would pay at minimum $20 more a device for a Kindle tablet that is heavier and has less battery life than a basic Kindle e-reader. There is also some irony that the Commission’s current waiver rules would suggest that a blind person would need to purchase a device that is marketed for its screen with a high refresh rate, high resolution, and vibrantly colored screen in order to get the proper accessibility. In order to get the features that they do need, the blind will be forced to pay for an array of features from which they cannot benefit. It is completely inappropriate to ‘tax’ those with disabilities who seek information on the same terms at the sighted. By requiring that all of the Coalition’s products include accessible ACS, it opens a market for the print-disabled for the same e-readers at the same price points as for other sectors of the public.

ARL and ALA oppose extension of the waiver, but suggest that if the Commission does extend it, the Commission should amend the current waiver class and ensure that the extension is time-limited. ARL and ALA note that the “the current slate of basic e-readers offered by Coalition members do not fall under even this overly-expansive waiver class, sufficient evidence and the public interest weigh heavily in favor of modif[ication].” The comments suggest that one of the requirements be amended to read “the device is not offered or shipped to consumers with built-in ACS client applications, including any browser, and the device manufacturer does not develop ACS applications for its respective device” so that those e-reader devices that have a co-primary uses, such as to access e-mails, are not exempted. The comments note that with this amendment, “Any truly single purpose non-ACS devices will still fall under the proposed waiver class should the Coalition seek waiver in the future.”

UAE Becomes Third Country to Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty

On October 15, 2014, the United Arab Emirates became the third country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Print Disabled. The treaty sets forth minimum standards for limitations and exceptions designed to facilitate access to accessible format works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. It would also permit cross-border sharing of these works.

India and El Salvador ratified the treaty earlier this year. The European Commission recently proposed ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, which needs a total of twenty ratifications for entry into force.

The United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty in October 2013, but has not yet ratified.

ICYMI: President Obama on IP

President Obama made the following comment on intellectual property during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles on October 9, 2014:

“I think the basic concept is that you want to have sufficient IP, and–whether patents or copyrights–that you are continually encouraging and rewarding innovation and creativity. But you don’t want those structures so tight, in terms of protecting that intellectual property, that that ends up being actually an inhibitor to people getting good information, folks coming up with new uses for existing information.” (emphasis added)

Link

Transformative Teaching after GSU

European Commission Proposes Ratification of Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind

On October 21, 2014, the European Commission proposed ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The EU signed the treaty in April 2014.

From the press release:

Michel Barnier, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Internal Market and Services, said “The Marrakesh Treaty will simplify the lives of millions of visually impaired people around the world. The EU can help to improve access to books with equal conditions for all and contribute to the fight against the book famine. The Commission’s proposal is a signal that Europe is ready to support the rapid entry into force of this important Treaty. I count on the Council and the European Parliament to authorise the ratification as soon as possible.” (emphasis added)

Two countries — India and El Salvador — have ratified the treaty which sets forth minimum standards for limitations and exceptions designed to facilitate access to accessible format works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. It would also permit cross-border sharing of these accessible format works, allowing countries to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in the creation of accessible format works and also facilitate the importation of works in other languages.

The treaty needs eighteen more ratifications to enter into force. The United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty in October 2013; when will it ratify the treaty?