Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Bernadette Murphy (ALA), 202-628-8410 ext. 236
Washington, D.C., July 22, 2005—Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers today expressed dismay that the House of Representatives failed to adopt essential reader privacy safeguards when it voted to re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act (257-171) and extend Section 215 for another decade. Section 215 authorizes the FBI to search bookstore and library records of anyone, whether or not the person is suspected of involvement in terrorism, whenever it asserts that they are "relevant."
The Campaign for Reader Privacy, a joint project of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center, also protested the decision by the House leadership not to permit a vote on an amendment offered by Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that barred bookstore and library searches under the PATRIOT Act. A similar amendment was approved by the House on June 15 by a 238-187 vote.
"A majority of House members went on record on June 15 in support of greater protections for library and bookstore records under the PATRIOT Act. In light of this, the action by the House Rules Committee in denying members the right to vote on Congressman Sanders' Freedom to Read amendment was unconscionable," Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers, said. "Our greatest challenge now is to see that the protections written into the bill the Senate Judiciary Committee passed yesterday remain in the final version."
The re-authorization bill unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday includes a more stringent standard for bookstore and library searches under the PATRIOT Act and other measures intended to safeguard reader privacy. The Senate re-authorization bill, S. 1389, allows the recipient of a Section 215 order to consult an attorney and to challenge the order in the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; requires the director or deputy director of the FBI to approve all requests for bookstore and library records and mandates that the Justice Department will annually publish publicly the number of bookstore and library searches. (The measure requiring FBI director or deputy director approval for bookstore and library searches was also added to the House bill.)
"We are very disappointed that the House has refused to recognize the American public's desire to protect library records from FBI scrutiny," said American Library Association President Michael Gorman. "Forty-eight states have laws that specifically protect library records from government fishing expeditions. Almost 400 communities – representing roughly 62 million Americans– have passed resolutions objecting to portions of the USA PATRIOT Act. We are discouraged to find that Congress has ignored these Americans' legitimate concerns."
"The House has ignored the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have signed petitions in bookstores and libraries demanding the restoration of the safeguards for their reading records that were eliminated by the PATRIOT Act," Oren Teicher, the chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said.
"It is one thing to pass the USA PATRIOT Act in haste a month after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; it is another to shut down debate and ram through an almost blanket extension three and a half years later." said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "Last month's House vote to cut funding for bookstore and library searches under Section 215 was straightfoward and clear. A way must be found, in reconciling the House and Senate bills, to reflect the will of the majority of House members to strengthen reader privacy protections."