Is Someone Reading Over Your Shoulder?
Campaign For Reader Privacy
Campaign for Reader Privacy News
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For information contact:
Oren Teicher (ABA), 800-637-0037, ext. 1267
Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Lynne Bradley (ALA), 800-941-8478

The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to give the FBI vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries: the FBI may request the records secretly; it is not required to prove that there is "probable cause" to believe the person whose records are being sought has committed a crime; and, the bookseller or librarian who receives an order is prohibited from revealing it to anyone except those whose help is needed to produce the records.

The SAFE Act requires the FBI to have "specific and articulable facts" that show that the person it is targeting is a foreign agent before it may seek a search order from the secret FISA court. The SAFE Act also gives a librarian or bookseller the right to go to court to quash the order; requires the government to show why a gag order is necessary; places a time limit on the gag (which can be extended by the court), and gives a recipient the right to challenge a gag order.

The SAFE Act also limits other powers given to the FBI by the PATRIOT Act, including the power to conduct "roving" wire taps, and to issue National Security Letters, which authorize searches of library computers, and "sneak and peak" search warrants.

"Last year, booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers launched the Campaign for Reader Privacy to restore safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records," Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said. "We collected nearly 200,000 signatures on petitions in bookstores and libraries, and on our Web site,, and we are going back to the grassroots this year to collect even more."

ALA Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff added, "the freedom to read what we choose without the government looking over our shoulder is perhaps the most basic of all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In seeking to curb the overly broad provisions of Section 215, we are not trying to thwart government efforts to investigate terrorists. However, we do not believe that the government needs unsupervised, secret powers to learn what ordinary Americans are reading."

Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers, said: "Americans understand the need for accurate intelligence to prevent acts of terror, but unless we protect ourselves without sacrificing our freedom, any 'security' we achieve is meaningless. The SAFE Act would restore an important measure of balance to this equation and would keep the government from unwarranted intrusion into the reading habits of ordinary citizens."

Larry Siems, director of the freedom to write program of PEN American Center, emphasized that writers, like all Americans, support strong, targeted laws to confront terrorism and prevent terrorist attacks. But PEN, an international human rights and free expression organization, has documented how, in many countries struggling with real terrorist threats, anti-terror laws exceed their stated purpose. "We have seen time and again how weakening legal protections for individuals may create shortcuts for law enforcement, but that shortcuts inevitably lead to errors and abuses," Siems said.

The SAFE Act, which was first introduced in 2003, is the third bill introduced in the new session of Congress to restore the safeguards for bookstore and library records that were eliminated by the PATRIOT Act. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reintroduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) last month. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) reintroduced the Library, Bookseller and Personal Records Privacy Act (S. 317) in February.

Grassroots opposition to the provisions of the PATRIOT Act that undermine civil liberties continues to grow. Five state legislatures and 372 cities and counties across the country have passed resolutions that are critical of the PATRIOT Act. Last week, Montana joined Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont in passing a resolution. The vote was 87 to 12 in the House and 40 to 10 in the Senate.