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., March 30, 2006—Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers today accused President George W. Bush of undermining a new law that expands Congressional oversight of the USA PATRIOT Act, including the provision that authorizes searches of bookstore and library records. In a “signing statement” that he issued on March 9, soon after approving a bill that re-authorized the expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act, Bush said he reserved the right to ignore provisions of the bill. “The Executive Branch shall construe the provisions of H.R. 3199 that call for furnishing information...in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority....to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive’s constitutional duties,” Bush wrote.
Leaders of the Campaign for Reader Privacy condemned the signing statement. “The oversight provisions of the re-authorization bill are an important safeguard in protecting reader privacy. It is simply outrageous that the President thinks he can choose the sections of the law he wants to enforce and ignore the rest,” Oren Teicher, the chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said.
The PATRIOT re-authorization law contains several provisions that expand Congressional oversight over how the administration exercises its expanded police powers. The new law requires the Justice Department’s Inspector General to conduct an audit of how the government has used Section 215, which gives the FBI the authority to search any records that it believes are relevant to a terrorist investigation, including bookstore and library records. It also provides for an audit of the way in which the government has used National Security Letters (NSLs) to search Internet records. Finally, the new law requires the Justice Department to report in April every year the number of bookstore and library searches under Section 215. These reports are to be submitted to the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Bush has issued dozens of signing statements that raise hundreds of objections to legislation that he has approved. His most controversial signing statement was released after he signed legislation sponsored by Senator John McCain that bans the torture of detainees in U.S. custody. The statement claimed that the president can legitimately ignore the ban in certain circumstances.
“We call on those Senators who negotiated the PATRIOT compromise legislation to hold the Executive Branch accountable to the American people,” said Michael Gorman, President of the American Library Association. “It is up to the Congress to ensure that every aspect of the PATRIOT law as written, including reporting requirements, be enforced.”
“After four years of stonewalling Congress, undercutting reasonable reform proposals and bullying critics, the administration has underscored its contempt for legislative process by issuing a ‘signing statement’ saying it does not feel obliged to comply with something as basic as the new law’s strengthened reporting requirements,” Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center said. “As a result, I don’t think anybody who has been following this issue closely has any more confidence today that the government is not needlessly monitoring the lives and activities of law-abiding Americans. We are determined to keep fighting until that confidence is restored.”
"The heavy-handed assertion by the White House that it unilaterally decides what to tell Congress about enforcing the Patriot Act should make members of Congress mad enough to re-energize the fight to restore basic civil liberties protections,” Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers said. “As far as we're concerned, that fight is far from over."