On Tuesday, February 17, organizations representing booksellers, librarians, and writers announced the official launch of the "Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP)," a nationwide grassroots effort to restore the safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The centerpiece of CRP, which is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association (ALA), and PEN American Center, is a petition drive that is being conducted in bookstores, libraries, and via the Web at www.readerprivacy.org.
The goal of the petition drive is to present one million signatures to members of Congress in support of legislation to amend Section 215. Section 215 of 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. Under the Act, 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.
Over the last year, Washington Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have sponsored a number of bills that seek to amend the Patriot Act. These include the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) and the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act (S. 1709).
Since early January, many independent booksellers have been gathering signatures on petitions. "Booksellers are deeply concerned about the chilling effect of Section 215 and President Bush's stated intent to seek reauthorization of the Patriot Act," noted ABA COO Oren Teicher. (To read more about booksellers' efforts, click here.)
Many city and town councils have also taken up the banner. At present, more than 253 anti-Patriot Act resolutions have been passed nationwide. In just the last two weeks, New York City; Kansas City, Missouri; and Valencia County, New Mexico, have joined their ranks.
Despite the ever-growing backlash toward the Patriot Act, over the past year, the Bush administration has made it clear it does not support amending Section 215. In August 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft embarked on a nationwide tour to drum up support for the controversial bill, which culminated in a September speech to restaurateurs where he characterized concern over the privacy of bookstore and library records as "baseless hysteria." More recently, in his State of the Union message on January 20, President George Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of next year, including Section 215.
"Our concerns about privacy are far from hysterical. The federal government has attempted to monitor library records before, and it seems inevitable that they will use Section 215 to try again," said Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
To demonstrate the unity of the book and library community, the groups also released a statement of support for proposed legislation that amends Section 215. The statement is signed by 40 organizations representing virtually every bookstore, library, and writer in the country as well as 82 individual companies, including Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Borders Group, Inc., Ingram Book Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Holtzbrinck Publishers, and Penguin Group USA.
To read the Book and Library Community Statement, click here.