The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) is urging members of the book and library communities to contact their congressional representatives this week in support of an amendment that cuts off Justice Department funding for searches of bookstore and library records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will offer the measure as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations Bill of 2004. The bill, which has no number yet, is co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID).
ABFFE President Chris Finan said, "The House has never voted on a proposal to limit the Patriot Act. The vote is expected to be very close. It is urgent that you contact your congress member. Because we don't know precisely when the measure will be brought up on the floor, it is also critical to reach your representative as early in the week as possible."
For maximum effectiveness, Finan recommends that those in favor of the amendment contact their representative's Washington office and tell "whoever answers the phone" that they support the Sanders-Otter-Conyers amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations Bill. Additionally, they should follow up by faxing a note containing the same message on letterhead.
Contact information for House representatives can be found by using the search aid on the House Web site, http://www.house.gov. Or, contact ABFFE at (212) 587-4025 between 9:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (EDT).
"Section 215 has created a dangerous chilling effect on First Amendment rights by giving the FBI the power to secretly search the bookstore and library records of anyone it believes may have information relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation," Finan explained. "In March, Sanders introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) to restore the protections for customer privacy eliminated by the Patriot Act. The bill has gained wide support and is co-sponsored by 129 House members . However, the House leadership is refusing to hold a hearing on H.R. 1157. The Sanders-Otter-Conyers amendment will give supporters of the bill an opportunity to achieve its purpose through the appropriations process."
Already, at least one independent bookstore has taken up ABFFE's banner. Kerry Slattery, general manager for Skylight Books in Los Angeles, California, sent an e-mail to "Sky Light Books supporters" urging them to contact their House rep "if you have concerns about customer privacy issues in bookstores and libraries" and attaching ABFFE's letter.
"When people are afraid to read (buy or check out at libraries) controversial books, their self-censorship (and ultimately, loss of choices in such books) is a loss to all of us," Slattery wrote. "An amendment has just been added to a current bill on the floor -- and will come up for a vote this week (possibly even as early as Monday, July 21). This may be the only opportunity to support this issue, as it appears that previously-proposed legislation (the Freedom to Read Protection Act) may never have an opportunity to be heard because House leadership is refusing to have a hearing on this bill."