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 22, 2005—Writers, booksellers, librarians, and other defenders of reader privacy last night won the biggest battle yet in their four-year fight to restore the protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite repeated statements by President George Bush that he would not accept a short-term extension of the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, Republican Congressional leaders endorsed a six-month extension that will allow negotiators to continue their efforts to find a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the re-authorization legislation. So far, the House has rejected the Senate's insistence that searches of bookstores and libraries be limited to the records of people who are suspected of terrorism.
Last night's victory was made possible by four Republican Senators. On Friday, Larry Craig (Idaho), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), John Sununu (New Hampshire) and Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) joined 43 Democrats in defeating a motion that would have allowed Republican leaders to end a filibuster and bring the re-authorization legislation up for a vote.
The critics of the re-authorization bill immediately offered to extend the expiring provisions for three months. But the White House attempted to force them to reconsider by suggesting that it was willing to see the provisions lapse. Bush blamed Democrats for "killing the PATRIOT Act" and denounced the filibuster as obstruction by a "minority."
However, the White House's effort to isolate the Democrats received a severe blow during the day yesterday when four Republicans who had not supported the filibuster urged their leaders to accept a three-month extension. With the support of Lincoln D. Chafee (Rhode Island), Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), and Michael D. Crapo (Idaho), the minority suddenly became a majority, and it was the White House that was isolated. Bush has promised to sign the extension.
Yesterday's victory was hailed by leaders of the Campaign for Reader Privacy, a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center. "We owe a special debt of gratitude for the unwavering support of Senators Feingold, Sununu, Craig, Durbin, Murkowski, and Leahy, and, of course, to our stalwart supporter in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bernie Sanders," Oren Teicher, the ABA's chief operating officer, said. "Despite the difficult odds, these members of Congress never gave up and continued to insist that a reauthorized Patriot Act needed to include greater protections for America's readers."