The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) is urging booksellers to add their store names to the Book and Library Community Statement Supporting The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157); The Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158); and The Library, Bookseller, and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507). ABFFE is hoping that all ABA member stores will sign the statement, which is posted at www.bookweb.org/read/6565. A password-protected form, accessed by a click-through at the bottom of the statement, enables booksellers to submit their store names to ABFFE, which will post the store name and location to the online statement within a few days. The statement will be used by ABFFE to garner further Congressional support for the bills, which seek to protect the privacy of bookstore and library patrons' records jeopardized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.
"Now is the time to stand up and be counted if you want to restore the protections for customer privacy that the Patriot Act stripped away," ABFFE President Chris Finan said.
The USA Patriot Act grants the FBI vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries. The FBI may request the records secretly and is not required to prove that it has "probable cause" before beginning the search. In addition, the bookseller or librarian who receives an order is prohibited from revealing that fact to anyone except those whose help is needed to produce the records.
The Book and Library Community Statement says, in part: "Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Bookstore customers and library patrons must feel free to seek out books on health, religion, politics, the law, or any subject they choose, without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder. Without the assurance that their reading choices will remain private, they will be reluctant to fully exercise their right to read freely
"The bookstores listed below strongly support federal legislation that addresses this problem: the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158) and the Library, Bookseller, and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507). These bills strengthen protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records. The FBI will still be able to obtain crucial records.
However, under H.R. 1157 and S. 1158, the courts will exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing these requests. S. 1507 allows the FBI to follow the procedures authorized by Section 215 but limits searches to the records of 'foreign agents' engaged in acts of terrorism or espionage."
In mid-May, 35 organizations -- including ABFFE, the American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Borders Group Inc. -- issued a similar statement supporting the Freedom to Read Protection Act. Since May, a number of other organizations have added their names to the statement, and S. 1158 and S. 1507 have been introduced. (To read more about the May Industry Statement, click here.) --Rosemary Hawkins