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., September 7, 2005—The recent revelation that the FBI is trying to obtain records from a Connecticut library underscores the need to restore reader privacy safeguards eliminated by the USA PATRIOT Act, the Campaign for Reader Privacy said today. “The Connecticut case proves that despite the claims that the PATRIOT Act will rarely if ever be used to search reader records, the FBI is prepared to exercise its extraordinary power whenever it believes it is necessary. When that happens, it is critical that we have safeguards in place to ensure that this power is not abused,” according to Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association, one of the Campaign’s sponsor.
The revelation came in an announcement by the American Civil Liberties Union that in early August it had filed suit against the government on behalf of a Connecticut plaintiff, a member of the American Library Association who cannot be publicly identified because of the gag order imposed on all recipients of so-called “National Security Letters.” National Security letters are administrative subpoenas issued by the government that can order the release of sensitive information about library patrons without any judicial oversight, including information on Internet usage. The lawsuit seeks to lift the gag. Following a hearing in Bridgeport on Aug. 31, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall promised a decision as early as this week.
According to the Campaign for Reader Privacy, which represents librarians, booksellers, publishers and writers, the Connecticut case underlines the importance of adopting safeguards unanimously approved by the Senate in S. 1389, a bill re-authorizing expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act. A conference committee will meet later this month to reconcile S. 1389 with a House bill that does not contain the safeguards in the Senate bill.
If S.1389 is signed into law, booksellers, librarians and others would be allowed to challenge orders to turn over sensitive records issued under Sections 215 and 505 of the PATRIOT Act. (Section 215 covers records of books borrowed or sold in bookstores and libraries; Section 505, which authorizes the issuance of National Security Letters, relates to the Internet records of bookstores and libraries.) In addition, booksellers, librarians and others would be able to challenge gag orders issued under Section 505. S. 1389 also limits the issuance of Section 215 orders to persons suspected of terrorism and people who are in contact with them. The House version of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill has less stringent safeguards against misuse of the subpoena powers granted by the PATRIOT Act.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy is urging its supporters to contact the Senate conferees to urge them to push for S. 1389. They are Arlen Specter (R-PA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Michael DeWine (R-OH), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Carl Levin (D-MI). The House conferees have not been chosen yet.
“We are on the verge of restoring the safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records–something we have been seeking for two and a half years,” Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said. “We are asking the friends of reader privacy to let their voices be heard in Congress one more time.”
“By now there’s ample evidence that the FBI has pursued its interest in bookstore and library records and that the PATRIOT Act has allowed the bureau to do so without sufficient checks,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “It is no longer plausible for the Attorney General to argue against the very basic protections the Senate voted unanimously to include in Section 215 and 505 going forward.”
“Adoption of the language in S.1389 is a win-win situation,” said Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers. “The government would still have the subpoena and seizure powers it needs, but with essential checks and balances back in place.”