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., July 13, 2005—Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers expressed disappointment over the failure today of Rep. Nadler’s (D-NY) amendment to the House Judiciary Committee bill reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite a 238-187 vote in the House on June 15 to cut off funds for bookstore and library searches under the USA PATRIOT Act, the committee did not adopt Nadler’s amendment that would have restored crucial safeguards for the privacy of library and bookstore records that were eliminated by Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
While the reauthorization bill, H.R. 3199, would permit libraries, booksellers and other recipients of Section 215 orders to challenge their legality, it does not guarantee the recipient the opportunity to appear before a judge. In addition, in the absence of a more stringent standard than "relevance," the judge would have no grounds to limit the overwhelming majority of orders.
"We are disappointed that the House Judiciary Committee has ignored the will of the substantial majority of House members who voted last month to restore the safeguards for reader privacy," Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said. "We will continue to push for further safeguards on the House floor and in the Senate."
The groups are hopeful that members will honor commitments made during the markup to offer language strengthening the standard for a Section 215 order on the floor. Currently, Section 215 authorizes the FBI to obtain the records secretly without demonstrating that there is a reason to believe the person whose records are sought is a terrorist or a spy. The FBI need only assert that the records are "relevant" to clandestine intelligence activities or to an ongoing investigation to protect against international terrorism. The users of libraries and bookstores whose records are seized in such a search may have no connection to intelligence activities at all. H.R. 3199 also leaves unchanged the provision of the PATRIOT Act that imposes a permanent gag on booksellers and librarians, forbidding them to reveal that they have received a Section 215 order.
Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers, said: "We are very disappointed with the legislation as it now stands. The safeguards needed to protect the right of Americans to read freely are neither unreasonable nor unworkable. They would not impede the government’s ability to fight terrorism, but would go a long way to prevent abuse of government power. Let’s hope they find their way back into the bill."
The Campaign for Reader Privacy has endorsed two bills that restore safeguards for reader privacy: the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which exempts bookstores and libraries from Section 215; and the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act (S. 737), which requires the FBI to have "specific and articulable facts" that show that the person it is targeting is a foreign agent or terrorist before it may seek a search order from the secret FISA court.
"We should not be asked to choose between protecting our privacy and protecting our security," said American Library Association President Michael Gorman. "Both H.R. 1157 and S. 737 allow us to do both and ensure that libraries continue to be a place for people to read freely."
"This isn't about stripping law enforcement of the power to investigate terrorism. It's about restoring confidence that our reading choices aren't being monitored by the government," said Larry Siems, director of PEN's Freedom to Write Program.