ABFFE Endorses Senate Bills Amending USA Patriot Act

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At press time, it was announced that Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-WI) had introduced The Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act (S.1507) today, and, on Friday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would be introducing the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act. Both bills would limit searches under the Patriot Act to the records of people who are "foreign agents" engaged in acts of espionage or terrorism. Currently, under the Patriot Act, the FBI can search the records of anyone it believes may have information that is relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation.

Both bills are endorsed by the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFFE). "The Feingold and Murkowski bills will discourage the FBI from engaging in fishing expeditions in the private reading habits of American citizens," said Chris Finan, president for ABFFE.

The Feingold bill is co-sponsored by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), James M. Jeffords (I-VT) and Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ).

The Patriot Act 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.

In March, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) to limit the FBI's power. Under the proposed legislation, the government would have to seek an order through regular court channels, giving a bookseller or librarian the opportunity to object on First Amendment grounds; it would have to show "probable cause"; and booksellers and librarians would be free to report the receipt of subpoenas for customer records. H.R. 1157 is co-sponsored by 130 House members.

ABFFE will continue to strongly support H.R. 1157 and S. 1158, the Library and Bookseller Protection Act, which was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and is similar to the Sanders bill.

Although the Feingold and Murkowski bills significantly narrow FISA, they do not exempt bookstore and library records from it. Under the Feingold bill, if the FBI has "specific and articulable facts" that show that the person it is targeting is a foreign agent, it may seek a search order from the secret FISA court. The Murkowski bill creates an additional hurdle for the FBI by requiring facts that establish "probable cause" for believing the target is a foreign agent.

The Feingold bill was introduced less than a day after ACLU filed a court challenge to the section of the Patriot Act that authorizes secret searches of bookstore and library records. To see an article on the ACLU challenge, click here.