Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Bernadette Murphy (ALA), 202-628-8410, ext. 8236
Washington, D.C., December 12, 2005—Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers, and writers today urged their members to support an expected filibuster in the U.S. Senate that will attempt to block a bill that reauthorizes expiring sections of the USA PATRIOT Act without providing a key protection for the privacy of bookstore and library records. After weeks of negotiating over differences between the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization legislation, a conference committee has reported a bill that does not limit bookstore and library searches to the records of people who are suspected of terrorism. As a result, the FBI would continue to have the power to search the records of anyone, even individuals not suspected of any crime, if it asserts the records are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.
Six members of the Senate have announced that they will filibuster the conference report when it is brought to the floor this week. Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI), Larry Craig (R-ID), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ken Salazar (D-CO), and John Sununu (R-NH) are urging their colleagues to vote instead for a bill that would give the Congress time to fix the legislation by extending the expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act for three months.
Supporters of the conference report will attempt to cut off debate by passing a cloture motion, which must have the support of 60 Senators to pass. If they cannot cutoff debate before Congress adjourns next week, they will be forced to temporarily extend the sections that are due to expire on December 31.
“We are thrilled by the brave fight being made by members of the Senate to filibuster the conference report and restore the safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the PATRIOT Act,” Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said. “We are urging booksellers to call their Senators today and urge them to vote against a cloture motion.”
ALA Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff added that librarians across the country have fought against the overreaching sections of the USA PATRIOT Act since the legislation was passed four years ago. “We extend our thanks and support to the Senators who have resolved to filibuster this inadequate bill,” she said. Pat Schroeder, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said, “We’re asking publishers throughout the country to tell their Senators to vote ‘no’ on cloture and let them know that the conference report is unacceptable in failing to restore even minimal protections against government abuse of secret searches of libraries, bookstores, and businesses.”
Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write program of PEN American Center, said, “To pass the reauthorization bill in its current form means four more years of uncertainty over whether the FBI is thumbing through the reading records of Americans who are not suspected of terrorism or any wrongdoing. The Senators from both parties who are urging a filibuster are right: there is more work to do, and now is the time to get it done. We believe strongly that a bill that goes further in restoring reader privacy protections will pass both houses easily if it is allowed to come to a vote.”